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.