A guide to Britain's mountains

Introducing Britain's highest mountains: home of the 3 Peaks Challenge

Britain is certainly blessed with an enviable pedigree of mountains. Whether it's the iconic Ben Nevis or majestic Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), England's Scafell Pike or the rolling Pennines, there's plenty to behold - and to climb. As such, scaling the peaks of these beasts features on many Brits' to-do lists, whether they live nearby or at the other end of the country.

So with this in mind, here's a guide to some of Britain's most revered mountains:

Relative height

To start, an explanation. Any heights in this article will be detailed using the relative height method, not absolute height. This is because it gives a more accurate measure of how high the mountain will feel to those climbing it, which you may not get otherwise.

Absolute height uses the old metres above sea level gauge, as this is uniform and well documented. More recently, though, the method of relative height, or topographic prominence, has come to the fore. This quite simply measures a mountain's height relative to its surrounding areas.

Using this method will not only provide a much better idea of the mountain's height but also provide would-be climbers with more relevant statistics for the preparation of their trek.

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa)

Those with a few more climbing hours under their belts may wish to try their hands at the more challenging Rhyd Ddu Path, which offers spectacular views over the mountainous Snowdonia scenery over the course of its 8.5-mile combined out and back length.

Hikers can also savour following in the footsteps of iconic climber and first man to scale Everest, Sir Edmund Hilary, who famously used Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) for his training efforts because of the challenging ascents and loose scree it offered.

Wales's largest mountain, Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) is the third highest in Britain, with a prominence of 1,038 metres. Whilst falling short of its big brother Ben Nevis, Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) has long been labelled the "busiest mountain in Britain", thanks to its range of ascents, summit café and even railway for those wanting to reach the top without all that pesky physical exertion getting in their way.

There are six main ways up (and, indeed, down) Snowdon: the Llanberis Path, Rhyd Ddu Path, Snowdon Ranger, Pyg Track, Miner's Path and Watkin Path (see our post on Snowdon: routes to the top). It's the former of these, the Llanberis, which is the most gentle walkway to the top, although by its very gradual nature, is also the longest. Hikers can take their minds off the aching limbs, though, with views to the north west over the Menai Straight from the mainland across to Anglesey.

Ben Nevis

Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis, stretches up some 1,345 metres (as of 2016) into the Scottish sky, putting it well clear of all others in Britain. Despite occupying a rather remote area of the Scottish Highlands, Ben Nevis welcomes more than 100,000 visitors every year, most having travelled scores or even hundreds of miles in a bid to reach the iconic summit.

By far the most popular route up Ben Nevis is along the Pony Track, as this is viewed to be the easiest and most accessible. That being said, the easy nature of this route leaves many hikers feeling cold, some noting its wry nickname as the 'Tourist Route'.

That being said, first timers would be wise to choose this route for their maiden voyage. After all, there's not just the 1,345 metres of ascent to manage, but also the 10.5-mile walk to the peak and back.

Those who make it to the top are justly rewarded for their efforts, with breathtaking views across the Scottish highlands. Brave souls may also wish to try peering over the mountain's 700-metre cliffs on its north side, which are also among the largest in Britain. As noted by the officials, though, don't do this if it's snowy, as the results could be fatal.

Scafell Pike

Boasting a prominence of 912 metres, Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England and the 13th tallest in Britain. Many climbers choose the Cumbrian mountain as a one-off ascent, although a great number also tackle it as part of the National Three Peaks Challenge, which also takes in Ben Nevis and Snowdon.

To rush Scafell is perhaps churlish, though, as the view from its peak are as good as any other in Britain. On a clear day, it's possible to see more than 30 other peaks, with some climbers even reporting glimpses of summits more than 100 miles away.

Whilst most hikers start their ascent from Borrowdale (as it's easily accessible thanks to its proximity to Keswick), a longer route from Eskdale is a firm favourite among all those who walk it. Starting alongside the river Esk, this route turns wild on occasion, but maintains a sense of peace, as it's not the most popular or well-documented path among tourists.

In fact, official figures claim that only nine out of every 100 people who climb Scafell Pike go nowhere near Scafell. So, even though the 11-mile route from Eskdale is not easy by any stretch, it's certainly quiet.

For more information on the various routes you can choose from to climb Scafell Pike and the best time of the year to attempt your Scafell Pike walk, check out The Complete Guide to England's Highest Peak.

The Three Peaks Challenge

Of course, these are just three of the hundreds of mountains rising up across Britain. From this little "small island", as Bill Bryson put it, there shouldn't be too far for anyone to travel before hitting a peak or two.

Then, for those who really want to challenge themselves, where better than on the imposing trifecta of Ben Nevis, Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) or Scafell Pike with the Three Peaks Challenge.

Find approved routes for all three peaks with the OS Three Peaks Challenge map. This map also includes additional helpful information such as:

  • A quick guide to the history of each peak
  • Hazard warnings
  • Map legend exclusively for this map
  • Parking information

This map was created with the Three Peaks Partnership. Buy yours for £12.99.