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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.