Three Peaks

A long time ago Twelve Mile Circle featured the Highpoints of the Crown Dependencies, specifically Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. At the time I figured I’d quickly move to the island of Great Britain itself and the highest points of elevation of its three countries, England, Scotland and Wales. Several years passed and I decided to clean out some of the clutter on my potential topics list. Better late than never, I supposed. Plus I figured I’d give a little attention to the UK audience. I’ve focused too much on North America lately.

Ben Nevis; Scotland’s Highpoint


View from Ben Nevis Peak (1)
View from Ben Nevis Peak. Photo by Simon Caulton on Flickr (cc)

Ben Nevis sounded like some guy’s name. However I figured that couldn’t be the case, that it probably derived from Scottish Gaelic for something completely different. Ben-Nevis.com offered an explanation. It came from Beinn Nibheis. Beinn meant mountain or pinnacle, logically enough. Nibheis, well, that could mean one of several things. Maybe it meant "malicious," perhaps "in the clouds." Whatever the case, no mountain in the British Isles overshadowed Scotland’s Ben Nevis (map) at 1,344 metres (4,409 feet).

The Ben — its affectionate nickname — attracted about 125,000 full ascents and 100,000 partial ascents each year. If I quickly did the math in my head, and considered most people hiked to the top during warmer months, then there could be hundreds of people on the summit on a nice day. People might be tripping over each other.

I drove through the Scottish Highlands a number of years ago on my way to Fort William and passed right by Ben Nevis. I didn’t climb it though. If I had I would have seen the ruins of an old observatory that operated on top at the turn of the last century. That reminded me of Mount Washington the highpoint of the US state of New Hampshire. I did reach that summit although I drove up. The 12MC audience knows I’m a lazy, often reluctant highpointer.


Snowdon; Wales’ Highpoint


Snowdon summit
Snowdon summit. Photo by Gerald Davison on Flickr (cc)

I loved Wales because Welsh words looked so strange to my untrained eye. The English language version of its highest point of elevation went by Snowdon (map). In Welsh it became Yr Wyddfa. I couldn’t even begin to consider how to pronounce it. Snowdon derived from Old English, just a version of Snow Hill. The Welsh version offered a much more interesting situation.

The current Welsh name for Snowdon is Yr Wyddfa (the tomb). In the past, it was also known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr (the great tomb) and Carnedd y Cawr (the cairn of the giant). The tomb and cairn in question are said to mark the grave of the fierce giant Rhita Gawr (or Fawr), who made himself a cloak from the beards of the kings he had killed.

That must have been quite the ancient character on its summit, 1,085 m (3,560 ft) above sea level, with a homemade king-beard cloak.


Scafell Pike; England’s Highpoint


View from Scafell Pike Summit
View from Scafell Pike Summit. Photo by Philip Milne on Flickr (cc)

On the other hand, I’d never been anywhere near Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain (map). The Scafell part probably came from Old Norse, perhaps meaning the maintain (fell) with the bald summit. The word Pike came from Northern English as used in the Lake District, simply meaning Peak. I guess by that logic, Pike’s Peak in Colorado USA would be redundant, except that it took the name of an early explorer, Zebulon Pike. Regardless of that completely arbitrary non sequitur, Scafell Pike reached 978 m (3,209 ft.)

Lots of people liked to hike Scafell Pike too, particularly because of its easy accessibility and abundant rewards.

Not only is the Scafell Pike walk modestly challenging, it has invariably been described as exhilarating, beautiful and breathtaking. The view from the top, has inspired writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Baines and Wainwright as, on a clear day, you can see Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.

The name itself derived from an error. Nearby the mountain Scafell or Sca Fell — without the word Pike attached to it — was once thought to be the tallest mountain in the range. Scafell Pike got its name because the appendage Pike implied a lesser status (i.e., just one subsidiary peak of greater Scafell). Later surveys demonstrated that Scafell Pike actually rose a couple of metres higher than Scafell.


Challenges


Three Peaks Yacht Race Start
Three Peaks Yacht Race Start. Photo by Mark Hughes on Flickr (cc)

None of the three seemed particularly daunting from a mountaineering perspective. They might dissuade the unmotivated such as myself, although I bet lots of 12MC readers could conquer any of these slopes. In fact, many people do undertake those efforts and want to make the task even more difficult. Increasingly lots of them wanted to scale each of the summits in a single 24-hour period, an event called the National Three Peaks Challenge. That seemed rather more difficult although not impossible. It involved about 42 kilometres (26 miles) on foot with an elevation gain of 3,000 m (9,800 ft).

Another group offered an even more interesting proposition, the Three Peaks Yacht Race. Participants do not use motorized vehicles. They sail from one mountain to another. However, those mountains don’t abut the sea exactly so participants have to run from dockside to summit trails. At Scafell Pike they can use bicycles because they need to cover a longer distance.

Teams of four or five per yacht sail from Barmouth to Fort William, with two of the crew climbing the highest mountains of Wales, England and Scotland en route, running the equivalent of three marathons in 3 or 4 days.

The team Pure Attitude won in 2016 with a time of four days and a few minutes.


Completely Unrelated

I’ve become increasingly enamored of the Wendover Productions site on YouTube. Their latest is "Every State in the US."



It cites lots of geo-oddities, many of which have also been featured in Twelve Mile Circle in the past. The big difference here is that Wendover Productions comes at if from a much more professional angle. If you haven’t seen any of their videos you should check them out. You’ll enjoy them.

Marking the Meridian

A random one-time reader landed on Twelve Mile Circle recently. That unknown visitor sought information about the Prime Meridian, and I’ll get to the specific request in a moment. I knew I’d discussed this meridian before. However, in searching my archives and after examining the Complete Index I discovered that I’d never actually marked the place where it all started in Greenwich, England (map).

The Royal Observatory; Greenwich, England, UK


Prime meridian at Greenwich
Prime meridian at Greenwich. Photo by Duncan Stephen on Flickr (cc)

More than nine years writing 12MC and no photo? Really? We’ll fix that right now.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it because I think most of us already know the story. Greenwich appeared in a number of 12MC articles, for example from an American perspective. The agreed-upon line went through the Royal Observatory for a number of historical reasons. I’ll borrow some text directly from its website.

In 1884 the Prime Meridian was defined by the position of the large ‘Transit Circle’ telescope in the Observatory’s Meridian Observatory. The transit circle was built by Sir George Biddell Airy, the 7th Astronomer Royal, in 1850. The cross-hairs in the eyepiece of the Transit Circle precisely defined Longitude 0° for the world. As the Earth’s crust is moving very slightly all the time the exact position of the Prime Meridian is now moving very slightly too, but the original reference for the prime meridian of the world remains the Airy Transit Circle in the Royal Observatory, even if the exact location of the line may move to either side of Airy’s meridian.

Modern calculations placed the meridian about 100 metres east of the line where all the tourists commonly gather. The Daily Telegraph noted that a rubbish bin marked the actual line, not the fancy marker.


Meridiano de Greenwich; Candasnos, Spain


Meridiano de Greenwich
Meridiano de Greenwich; Candasnos, Spain
via Google Street View, July 2016

A wonderful arch crossed motorway Autopista del Nordeste (AP-2) at kilometre 82 outside of Candasnos, Spain (map). This was the object my random visitor hoped to find on the 12MC website. It very much marked the Prime Meridian and the search engine link landed on my Prime Meridian Through Spain. However I didn’t include anything about the arch on 12MC because I didn’t know it existed. Whoever it was left disappointed, probably never to return.

That troubling outcome, of course, led me to search for the arch and I found it without too much trouble. Unfortunately I never uncovered any information about its construction, who commissioned it, when it happened, or any other details. Precious little information even existed about the town of Candasnos itself. I consulted the Spanish version of Wikipedia to see what I could learn. It told me that the economy depended on agriculture and people exiting the Autopista for services as they drove along through the countryside.

That little exercise turned out to be a bit of a bust. I came across an interesting website however, devoted entirely to Prime Meridian markers. I could appreciate something like that, and I did, a kindred spirit who enjoyed a very specific geographic peculiarity. Why not use that as a source for finding a couple more fascinating Prime Meridian markers? That sounded like a great idea. Let’s do it.


Rue du Méridien; Neuvillalais, Pays de la Loire, France


Neuvillalais-72240-eglise
Eglise de Neuvillalais on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

The meridian went through France so that seemed like a good place to hunt for more markers. I found a particularly nice one in the village of Neuvillalais (map) in the Pays de la Loire region. According to French Wikipedia, the name traced back to Latin, nova villa, meaning new town. Its residents did not have a demonym until 2016 when the municipal council declared they were all "les Neuvillalois." That shouldn’t have fascinated me, yet somehow it did.

They named the primary road through town Rue du Méridien. Only one business existed within the village boundaries, a bar-restaurant-grocery store called Le Méridien. A line made of cobblestones marked the Prime Meridian as it traversed a roadway intersection near the center of town. A giant globe marked its passage where it crossed the front yard of a church. More recent photos suggested that the globe might have disappeared sometime in the last couple of years. What a pity.


Meridian Rock; Tema, Ghana



I always try to feature content from Africa because I don’t think the continent gets enough attention. However, many times I find it difficult to find any good material on the Intertubes. I struck pay dirt down in Ghana though. The line passed all the way through there, a fact I once recognized in Prime Meridian Capital Cities.

The notion seemed daunting when I heard about Meridian Rock (map) in the city of Tema, just east of Accra. Literally, it was a rock, and it sat just offshore of a local beach. Like I could find Street View coverage or a Creative Commons photo of a rock in the water? That’s why I practically did a cartwheel when I found a YouTube video of this obscure object. The same gentleman also posted a video of another meridian marker in Tema, on the grounds of the "Presbyterian Church of Ghana on the Greenwich Meridian." That was the actual name of the church. Awesome.

In 2014, the Ghana Tourism Authority launched an effort to mark the meridian in various parts of the country. They hoped to turn them into "a hot tourism spot."

…we are looking at erecting signages to indicate the imaginary line… we are also looking at developing special places within the settlements where people can visit, and we are also looking at erecting a ‘Wall of Fame,’ where people can say that ‘I have crossed the Greenwich Meridian’ in, say Salaga, for instance, so that he can pay something small and have his name inscribed on the wall.

I don’t know where the project stands today. I don’t think I’d go to Ghana solely to visit the line although I’d certainly seek it out if I happened to be there for some other purpose. Maybe the GTA could sponsor me?