As anyone who’s seen a jagged peak shooting skywards from Britain’s horizons will tell you: mountains matter. Simply their knack of making our spirits soar attests to that.
But today’s UN International Mountain Day invites us to go further. Why do mountains matter, it asks? The answers help us join the dots in a conservational chain that links Ben Nevis with Everest; Snowdon with Annapurna, and Scafell Pike with K2.
Great Gable. Photo credit: James Forrest
Before looking at much-loved British mountains, let’s consider their international cousins, and why they’re about much more than pretty views.
The UN’s slogan #MountainsMatter, aims to highlight their challenges and ecosystems – in terms of water (60-80% of our planet’s freshwater resources); disaster reduction (avalanches, mudflows, landslides); tourism (attracting 15-20% of global tourism); food (key agricultural production); youth (depopulation by the young); indigenous peoples (heritage-rich communities) and biodiversity (half the world’s biodiversity hotspots).
But where do Britain’s mountains fit in?
As conservationist Jacques Cousteau observed...
“People protect what they love”
To love something we have to know it, however imperfectly.
So seeing a mountain, climbing it, feeling immersed in its awesome power not only cements that connection, but can also prompt a broader journey - starting out on the trail up Cat Bells could lead to a desire to protect high-altitude ecosystems around the world. Most UK mountaineers started by hiking the high hills at home.
Pinnacle Ridge. Photo credit: Jessie Leong
So we asked our GetOutside Champions to name their
favourite mountains. After all, celebrating these British peaks just might help
prompt international change.
Cat Bells, 1,480ft, Lake District
Looking to the Newlands Valley from Cat Bells
Responsible for hooking thousands of beginners into the world of hillwalking, Cat Bells is a classic Lakeland climb for first-timers that serves up enough drama to make you feel like an adventurer without making you fear for your life. The short, steep climb offers glorious views across Derwentwater and down the Borrowdale valley, and crescendos with a small section of scrambling to the bare, rocky dome summit.
It was the first mountain I ever climbed, aged 8, with my mum, dad, little brother, granny and grandpa. It was the moment that hooked me on the great outdoors and led to a lifelong love of mountains.
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Y Garn, Cwm Idal Nature reserve of Snowdonia
This is an awesome mountain and it’s one that’s suitable for everyone, but oddly one that isn’t flooded with people, leaving it relatively quiet throughout the year. I’ve taken people who are new to walking up there, even my six-year-old granddaughter comes to the summit with me where she loves to sit with a hot chocolate.
I’m regularly asked why this is my favourite mountain. It’s a mountain I walk up at least once a week in all seasons; I’ve visited in sun, rain, snow, for sunsets, sunrises and it’s where I’ve pitched my tent for wild camps. Its familiarity to me is as comforting as a blanket on a cold winter’s night. I usually descend via the North East Ridge; I’ll sit on the ridge watching cars weave their way through the valley and along Nant Ffrancon. I watch the rush of people going about their daily business while I sit and lose myself and hours of my life sat up high.
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Fan Brycheiniog, Brecon Beacons National Park
It’s difficult to choose just one mountain as a favourite, as all the mountains of Brecon Beacons National Park are in some way special to me, however Fan Brycheiniog found in the western area of the Brecon Beacons National Park stands out a little from the rest. Standing at 802 m it’s the highest peak in the Black Mountain Range. An Ordnance Survey Triangulation Pillar marks the summit, a fantastic spot to absorb the surrounding views.
The unmistakeable humps of Corn Du and Pen y Fan take centre stage to the east and lift up above the Black Mountains which lie further east in the distance. The shapely amphitheatre like escarpment hugs the shore of Llyn y Fan Fawr, one of the largest glacial lakes in southern Wales. Fan Brycheiniog is my go-to place for a technology detox. Recharge within the serene cwms of the Black Mountain Range.
I love to imagine I can be at any moment in history. Rich with wildlife the Red Kites sour overhead. In any weather Fan Brycheiniog will never disappoint. Even on the gloomiest of days, the mist and rain adds a mysterious and enchanting feel.
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Buachaille Etive Mor, Scottish Highlands
No matter how often I see it, I never tire of the moment when, driving north on the A82, you turn the corner and see the great pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor towering over Rannoch Moor ahead.
The Great Herdsman of Etive is one of Scotland’s most iconic and photographed mountains but to truly appreciate it I think you have to leave the roadside and make the steep climb up its two Munro summits of Stob Dearg (the red peak) and Stob na Broige (peak of the shoe).
It's well worth the effort for the incredible vertiginous views back over Rannoch Moor on one side and right down through Glencoe on the other. For scrambling fans, my favourite route has to be straight up the impenetrable-looking front buttress via the grade 2/3 Curved Ridge, a real classic and great fun for those with a head for heights!
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Snowdon is my favourite mountain. It’s got something for pretty much everyone and can be as beautiful as it can be treacherous. One minute she gives you a kiss on the cheek and the next, a punch in the gut! There are so many routes up and you can even find solitude for sunset and sunrises as well as finding community spirit on a weekend, Summers day.
Snowdon deserves respect, but you can also cut your teeth and stretch your adventure boundaries on the more defined paths. I love it. See you up there!
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TwoTravlrs - Andy & Gee
Kinder Scout, Peak District
Kinder Scout is one of the most significant parts of the Peak District - part of the very first National Park in the U.K. As the site of the 1932 Mass Tresspass, the history of this mountain and the legacy of that walk is just one of the many reasons that makes Kinder Scout our favourite mountain of them all.
Kinder is the highest point in the peaks, with some challenging but unique and rewarding walks and scrambles to the top of the plateau. With good access and picturesque views on a clear day, it even offers the potential for winter climbs when the famed Kinder Downfall freezes over, and plenty of chances to practice navigation skills. There really is something for everyone, whether it be crossing the old packhorse bridge on Jacob's Ladder, viewing Mermaid's Pool or looking for shapes in the rock formations of Pym's Chair and the Boxing Gloves. The people's mountain!
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Twmpa, Black Mountains
Twmpa is in the Black Mountains and part of the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. It is not only my favourite mountain but it is 'my somewhere'; the place I go to think, to breathe, to set my mind straight again.
It is the place I share with only the really special people in my life and it is here, on this mountain at the age of 13 that my intense love of mountains and walking began.
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Great Gable, The Lake District
If you've ever wondered which mountain it is that sits dead centre of the Lake District National Park emblem, then wonder no more. Taking centre stage is the mighty Great Gable.
Known affectionately as GG amongst its fans, it is by far my favourite fell in the national park. Viewed from the North it looks to be a huge lump or rock. But from the South, looking up from Wasdale its pyramid like profile is truly eye catching. This is also the best way to ascent the mountain up it's craggy scree slopes to the summit.
Once on top, the view back down over the farmlands to Wastwater are up there with the very best in the Lakes. Approach from the North and North West for a gentler stroll on grassy fells to the summit. I don't keep track of how many times I visit a particular mountain, but GG is by far my most frequented!
Slieve Gallion, Northern Ireland
I am not able to pinpoint when I became conscious of “The Mountain” but that was how we always referred to Slieve Gallion, the flat-topped volcanic plug that is visible from my parents’ house in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland. However, I am fairly sure that this minnow of a mountain with two peaks, the highest of which stands at just 528 metres and is only the 397th highest peak in Ireland, was what started my love of mountains.
The poet Seamus Heaney grew up in this area and it was the same constant presence in his childhood. He described it in his poetry much more eloquently than I ever could as “one of the dream boundaries of my imagination”. Even though this mountain is small, it dominates much of the mid-Ulster landscape and just seeing a picture of it triggers an ache for home. On the fairly rare occasion of a clear day in Northern Ireland, my Dad would drive me and my sister up the narrow road that almost reaches the summit. We were able to walk around and look across at Lough Neagh and pick out Slemish, the Belfast hills and the Mournes.
I am sure that, during the troubles in Northern Ireland, there were people who went walking in the hills but it was not common and, perhaps because of the legacy of those darker times, Slieve Gallion is still not overrun by walkers. It is only in recent years that I have climbed to both of the peaks from the bottom of the mountain.
Reaching the top and looking out over the green patchwork below makes the effort worthwhile and, if the story is true that the cairn at the top of the mountain marks the burial site of one of the high kings of Ireland, I can understand why he may have chosen such a beautiful location for his final resting place.
Raven Crag. Photo credit: Jack Anstey
Just some of the British mountains we’re celebrating as part of International Mountain Day – which would you add to the list, and why would you say #MountainsMatter? Perhaps it’s because, as Robert Macfarlane, put it in the film Mountain...
“Now, more than ever we need their wildness”
Hero image photo credit: Jason Rawles