The UK’s Highest Mountains – Did you know that Ben Nevis is only ranking #23?

During our last trip before Covid struck, the Barbarians visited two countries that are not short of tall peaks, Nepal and Bhutan, and somehow we got talking about the pleasant rolling hills of the British Isles; it seems a common fact that Ben Nevis is the UK’s highest mountain.

There is no doubt that it is indeed the tallest peak on the UK main territory, the highest mountain on the British Isles. However, the former British Empire still owns a large number of overseas territories, which are not part of the UK, but under UK sovereignty, owned by the UK: they are UK territory.

When you take into account those territories, Ben Nevis is not looking so tall anymore. I was really surprised when I was not able to find any lists of the UK’s highest mountains anywhere on the internet. I found some mentions of the tallest mountain, even some erroneous lists of the tallest mountains per UK overseas territory and some even faultier lists pretending to show all of the tallest mountains, but Ben Nevis never ranked lower than #6.

This could not be true. A small British Overseas Territory, not far from Antarctica in the South Atlantic, called South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has a verified record of more than a dozen mountains that dwarf Ben Nevis, so I spent some of the commodity I have lavish amounts of these days thanks to the Pandemic (time), researching every single mountain in every British Overseas Territory to bring you this news: Ben Nevis ranks #23 when it comes to the UK’s highest mountains, #35 if you take into account British Antarctic Territory, which is not recognised by most countries and which the UK undertook to suspend its claim on since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961.

(c) Berkeley Square Barbarian, just like all photos

The list changed last in 2017, when a new Antarctic survey found that Mount Hope in the British Antarctic Territory is actually 377 metres higher than initially thought, making it 50 metres higher than the previous contender, Mount Jackson, just a bit further down the road. The survey also changed the recorded heights of many other mountains by as much as 600 metres and their locations by up to six kilometres. Even Ben Nevis on the UK mainland changed his certified height recently by 60 centimetres following a survey, pushing his rounded height from 1,344 to 1,345.

As mentioned above, it does not really make much sense to include British Antarctic Territory, so Mount Paget is still the UK’s highest mountain.

As someone who grew up in a city (Munich)  that is located at an elevation of 520 metres, with mountains of around 3,000 metres height within an hour’s drive I often felt puzzled about the British Isles’ figures.

The highest city is Bradford at 325m, followed by Sheffield (298m), Stoke-on-Trent (276m), Birmingham (247m), and Bath (230m). The village of Flash (463m) in the Peak District has long been recognised as Britain’s highest village or town. Not that impressive when you consider that the highest town on earth is La Rinconada, Peru, at 5,100m, but Flashers still bang on about it. In Nepal locals don’t call it a mountain, if it is less than 5,000m tall, they call those elevations foothills of the Himalayas, well, they call them हिमालयको खुट्टा, but you know what I mean.

Like all good Brits (naturalised in 2013) I love Britain, of course, and going hiking in the Scottish Highlands, Snowdonia, the Lake or Peak District is one of my favourite activities. I also readily admit that my initial slight juvenile smugness about the relatively low elevation of local mountains got wiped off my face when I got hit by a snowstorm on Mount Snowdon, not even talking about when local authorities possibly saved me from harm by temporarily banning access to Ben Nevis two years ago (a party of six had had to be rescued by mountain rescue the night before due to heavy thunderstorms).

As soon as Covid is over, Ms B and I will be joining Outdooraholics and the Ramblers again for more outdoor fun, just like we did in the Forest of Dean earlier this year. In for some more adventures? Feel welcome to eyeball our posts about packrafting, canyoning, caving, and skydiving. Should you be looking for some proper hiking, then why not have a quick look at our buddy Anthony’s post about backpacking in Ecuador on his and his partner Anna’s blog Green Mochila, you won’t be disappointed.

For restaurant reviews check out our posts about Gruvelageret, Helene Darroze, Galvin at the Athenaeum, or Lafleur.

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    1. Thank you so much, Catherine, your kind comment made my day. The cabin fever is starting to kick in at the Barbarian residence 🙂 , so this is appreciated even more than usual. I hope you and your loved ones are doing okay during these strange times.

  1. Utterly fascinating. I love this research. And if anyone had asked me ‘what is the highest city in the UK’ I would never, ever have thought of Bradford, or anywhere in the midlands for that matter! I’d probably have said Aberdeen or Inverness. Thanks so much for sharing.

        1. That’s true, yes. On the other hand Ellie & I are often surprised how some of the environments, especially in winter, are proper alpine and feel quite serious, for example on Ben Nevis or Snowdon. 🙂 🙂

  2. Wow, interesting research you’ve done here! It’s impressive that so many of them are DOUBLE the height of Ben Nevis. Although it’s true that mountains can be perilous no matter their height – like the fact there are mountains much smaller than Everest but more dangerous. Sometimes height isn’t everything!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Clazz. The Clash are so close to Ben Nevis, you must have climbed it a dozen times, I presume tehe… Yes, I heard that with Mount Everest it is really the Death Zone and generally the altitude that poses the challenge (and the overcrowding of course), there is not much technical skill required. There must be hundreds of mountains technically more difficult, I am guessing. 🙂

  3. I guess I too don’t think of mountains when I think of the UK. Lots of lovely green hills though. That is a bit like my home province of Ontario. Some things called mountains but nothing compared to the Rocky Mountains on the west coast. But if we find ourselves in the area, we will be sure to add Mount Paget to our travel stops. Since I am probably not going to see Mount Hope in the British Antarctic Territory even if we ever get to Antarctica.

    1. Ben Nevis will be waiting for you here in the UK, Linda. Ellie & I visit Scotland every now and then and have never been disappointed. Climbing it was great fun and good exercise.

      As someone who’s never visited Canada I am totally surprised that Ontario is so flat, I would’ve guessed you guys got high mountains left right and centre haha… 🙂

  4. Very interesting post…I had no idea that Bradford is the highest city. It could make a good question for a pub quiz 🙂
    I have hiked up MT. Snowdon, but not Ben Nevis. My husband is Scottish, so Ben Nevis is on my list.

  5. Love the detail in this post. I always forget just how beautiful my own country is! For someone who claims to love travel, I’ve done tragically little of the UK. Have to get some of these hikes on my list! I’m sure my parents would appreciate me travelling a little closer to home haha.

    Jamie | Bristolian Abroad

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