Combining stunning views, great climbs and a fascinating history, the mountains of Britain are an ideal location for those wanting to immerse themselves in nature.
The mountains of Britain do not boost the stature of those in North America and do not tower over the world like in the Himalayas – but – they do stand proud. Over the years they have bore witness to important events and contained within each mountain is a hidden history which catalogues the fall of empires to the slaying of giants.
[Guest Post by Joseph McQuillan]
Mountain Ranges of Britain Overview
In this article, I will take you on a journey around the three mountain ranges of the British Isles. These mountains are found in the three countries of Britain: Wales, Scotland, and England. Each area has its own culture, heritage, and mythology. Sometimes I hear about how people have shaped the landscape but in these areas, it is truly the opposite way round. The way of life and the identity of these communities are built around these stunning mountains.
Let’s start at the top!
Grampian Mountain Range – Scotland
Over 2,000 years ago the Roman Empire was the largest the world had seen. It stretched from the shores of Africa to the north of England. It was the most sophisticated civilization of its time and conquered all in its path. Its famous banner, the golden eagle, was held aloft as a symbol of its power.
However, this golden eagle was abruptly stopped. In its path, the mountains of Scotland. The myth of the 9th Legion (the Roman Army) is known to many. This Legion ventured into Scotland and never returned. The eagle it carried was lost and has never been found.
The harsh terrain the Roman Empire discovered still exists today. The Grampian mountain range has been largely untouched by the modern world. The first adventure when you travel to its foothills is navigating the winding roads and the hilly terrain. You will pass through villages such as Pitlockerie which seem stuck in time. The locals belong to a different, simpler, peaceful age. Even as a native of this Island, I struggle to understand the strong dialect which greets you in this place.
Whilst the journey is long, the views are stunning and once you arrive you realize that you have come to a place that could not have been dreamt up by a thousand artists. The Grampian mountain range engulfs you on all sides. It sneaks up on you and, without warning, you are in the middle of it.
The most famous of these mountains is Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Great Britain. The climb can be broken down into three stages. In the beginning, you cling to the side of the mountain as you curl up its base. You find yourself walking up the longest natural rock “staircase” in Britain. The next stage of this mountain is as attritional as it is beautiful, as you begin the long climb up the vertical face of the mountain. You must duck and dive through waterfalls that protect the integrity of this mountain (try and do a better job than Trudy who decided to jump in on a hot summer day).
The terrain becomes more desperate the closer you come to the summit. The rocks are loose and the challenge really starts to take its toll. This struggle is juxtaposed with the stunning view you get over all of Scotland. At this point, you are one of the highest people in all of Britain. You tower over the nation and the battle to get to this point on the mountain is well worth the stunning view you get over the mountain range below. You will still be able to glimpse the town of Fort William but it will be a speck on a map now.
When you reach the top you will find yourself scrambling over rocks before, out of nowhere, you are at the summit. You will see the mountain hut which is the last refuge for climbers who are stranded at the top by the weather. If this hutt could talk, it would recall the stories of the desperate hikers whose life it had saved.
The descent is easier than the climb and you will reach the base in a couple of hours. Unlike the infamous Legion of the 9th, you will be able to hit the trail and get back to the hustle and bustle of Scotland’s historic cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow; ever remembering the stunning views you got from the high point of Britain.
Who knows, if you are lucky, you may even stumble across the Eagle of the 9th.
The Lake District – England
The Lake District in England is home to the second mountain range we are going to look at. Found in the North West, in the county of Cumbria, the Lake District is somewhat ironically named given there is only one true Lake in all of this area – the rest are tarns, waters, and meres.
Whilst the history of the Grampians revolved around toppling the Roman military, the Lake District finds its history in the works of Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and Chaucer. These great pieces of literature have stood the test of time. What the poem daffodils [aka “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” by William Wordsworth] or the tales of Peter Rabbit [books by Beatrix Potter] won’t tell you, is that the inspiration for all of these great literary minds was the Lake District.
The breathtaking scenery of the Lake District is framed around its highest mountain – Scafell Pike.
Scafell is the tallest mountain in England and the walk up the face of the mountain gives you exceptional views of Wasdale. Of the three mountains on this list, I think that Scafell is the most difficult to climb.
You begin by climbing at a steep elevation which will take the breath out of even the fittest climbers. From there the route eases off but the terrain becomes uneven and bogey before you have to scramble to the top for the last kilometer. Scafell is home to England’s highest war memorial which is restored each year by volunteers who camp out on the top of the mountain.
On returning to the bottom of the mountain you can work your way to the Wasdale Head Pub. Now, this pub seems to be in the middle of nowhere but every time I have been in, it has been full of tired walkers who are ready to recall a tale or two from their time out on the trail. Even better, the pub always has a host of local ales and gins so you can experience ‘another side of Cumbria’.
Snowdonia – Wales
Of the three places on this list, none are more loving, or protective, of their mountain range than the residents of Wales. Once, a British Government official, who was tasked with measuring the mountains of the UK, stated that one particular peak was a hill due to being 10 meters short of the required height. Outraged by this, the residents spent a whole week dragging dirt, mud, and rock to the peak of the ‘hill’ in order to make up the deficit and restore it in the record books as a mountain.
This story is only the latest in a rich tapestry of history with the mountains of Wales. For example, the story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table originates in the land of Snowdonia. It is said that he killed a giant, Rhitta, and buried his remains in the foot of the grandest mountain of Wales: Snowdon.
Snowdon Mountain has lots to offer and is accessible to all. There is a train that works its way up the side of the mountain as an alternative to climbing. At the top, there is a café where you can pick up homemade sandwiches and a warm coffee.
If you are looking to climb Snowdon there are several routes to the peak that vary in difficulty. Grib Goch is definitely the toughest and should only be undertaken by experienced mountaineers who have specialist equipment. You need to scramble for a significant period of time as you reach the summit and the terrain is both difficult and dangerous. The easiest route up Snowdon is the Ranger Path. This has a steady incline all the way up the mountain (except one steep bit in the middle). Some walkers believe Llanberis Path is the easiest but it is the longest route you can take which definitely requires endurance to reach the summit.
The Final Word
The mountains of Britain are scarred by history. The stories of the 9th Legion and King Arthur have been passed down through generations and are as important to the local communities as the mountains themselves.
These mountains are not as grand, or tall, like others around the world but the history they hold is fascinating and the people they have inspired have changed the world.
If you plan on visiting these mountain ranges, make sure you come fully prepared. Do not be fooled that these mountains are tame – they are not. These mountains have teeth and can be dangerous. If you are a beginner, here are some backpacking tips for when you are ready to take on your own adventure.
Let’s Inspire Each Other
Have you been to any of these three British mountain ranges? Maybe even been on one of the summits? Tell us about your experience. What about other outdoor adventures is Scotland, Wales or England? How about hiking with dogs? Do you have a four-legged outdoors pal? Do you have any questions?
Please leave a comment in the reply section below.
Guest Blogger: Joseph Oliver McQuillan
Photos from the Grampian Mountain Range and all words by Joe McQuillan. Photos of Snowdonia and the Lake District courtesy of Ned McQuillan (watersportingadventure.com).
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