Alongside building home gyms and baking the perfect banana bread, one of the few good things to come out of 2020 - 2021 is the UK falling back in love with its natural scenery. Difficulties with flights have meant that staycations have grown in popularity, and with that, visits to our mountains have highlighted their importance.
International Mountain Day
Taking place on the 11th of December, this celebration has been observed since 2003 as a way of driving attention towards the importance of sustainable development of an environment home to 15% of the world population and a quarter of it’s land animals and plants. Although it was first celebrated in specific countries, such as Japan, in 2003 it was designated by The United Nations General Assembly and mandated by the Food and Agriculture Organization as an international day. Each year a new theme is chosen that brings a positive change to mountain environments and the people that live within them.
So, with International Mountain Day in mind, we feel like it’s worth bringing some of the best mountains in the UK into focus. From the highest peaks to the very best walks for beginners, with info on some of the UK’s most beautiful mountains in the middle, here’s our rundown of the country’s best elevated walks.
Fortunately for those living north of the English border (and unfortunately for the rest of the nation), every single one of the top 5 (even top 10) highest peaks in the United Kingdom are Scottish. They’re all part of the Grampian Mountains, including four from the Cairngorms National Park, the largest in the whole of the UK, which covers over 1,700 miles. While it would be great to have representation from all four corners of the country, each of these Scottish peaks deserve all the attention they get.
5. Sgor an Lochain Uaine - 1258m/ 4127ft
If you’re looking for a peak that brings you back to nature, this is the one for you. With its name meaning ‘Peak of the Little Green Loch’ and known on the Ordnance Survey Map as the ‘Angel’s Peak’, Sgor an Lochain Uaine is one of the more remote Cairngorms peaks and usually reached via other routes. If you’re coming from the North of Scotland, it would be accessible from the Braeriach peak, whereas if it’s from the South, you’ll first need to navigate the aptly contrastingly named ‘Devil’s Point’.
4. Cairn Toul - 1291m/4235ft
Similarly to the previous entry, this is another remote peak that is part of a much longer walk (usually taking around two days) alongside Braeriach, and the Devil’s point. A walk to the Cairn Toul will allow walkers to experience all different types of terrain, from bogs to boulder fields. It may even involve a stay at the well known Corrour Bothy refuge, a simple stone house that sits on the Mar Lodge Estate.
3. Braeriach - 1296m/4252ft
Already featured in our countdown, this is the highest peak in the Western Massif of the Cairngorms and famous for its long lingering snow filled corries. In its north facing ‘Garbh Coire Mor’ Corry, the snow has only melted six times in the last 100 years, and has the longest lasting patches in the whole of the British Isles. To summit Brareriach, the most commonly used route starts at the Sugar Bowl car park, which is located near the CairnGorm ski area. It’s a 10.2 mile round trip, and takes walkers past Chalamain Gap, the steep-side ravine and Lairig Ghru Pass, before eventually reaching the glorious summit.
2. Ben Macdui - 1309m/4295ft
Following on from Braeriach, Ben Macdui is the highest point in the Cairngorms national park. Before the production of maps during the 19th century, there was long debate as to whether or not it was the tallest mountain in the UK, and was only revealed to be the second following surveys of both Ben Macdui and Ben Nevis in 1846-47. On a clear day, it is possible to see other mountains from the summit, as well as Loch Avon, all of which are identified by a toposcope that sits within the boulder fielder. The most simple way of getting to the top is a 4 mile route starting at Cairngorm Ski Centre and with a short detour, you can also visit CairnGorm along the way. Those who do climb to the summit of Ben Macdui will have shared the honour with none other than Queen Victoria, who completed it in 1859 aged 40.
1. Ben Nevis - 1345m /4413ft
And at number one, we have none other than Ben Nevis, the highest point in the whole of the UK. Once a volcano that exploded and collapsed in on itself millions of years ago, the impact can still be seen at the summit today along with the ruins of a 19th century meteorological observatory. The summit attracts over 125 thousand walkers each year, many of whom use the Pony Track route from Glen Nevis, seen to be the easiest of the routes, of which there are a number of very tough ones. ‘Bagging the Ben’ is something high on the list of many of those within the British walking community.
Given the diverse range of mountains that our country offers, it almost feels wrong to pick out so few. That’s why we’ve gone for each of the UK’s most majestic peaks (Scotland has been excluded this time, they’ve already had quite enough said about their munros)
Located in a region of North Wales that is largely made up by Snowdonia National Park, it is the nation’s tallest mountain and the highest point in the British Isles (outside of Scotland). It’s elevated 1,085m/3560ft above sea level, and from its peak, it’s possible for visitors to see Pembrokeshire, Anglesey, neighbouring Ireland, as well as the rest of Snowdonia. For information on all the best routes round Snowdon, click here.
England’s tallest mountain and formerly known as ‘The Pikes of Sca-fell’, England's highest peak was donated to the National Trust in 1919 as a way of honouring the men of the Lake district who lost their lives during the First World War. It sits 978m/3208.66ft above sea level, and is home to Broad Crag, which is also the highest standing water in England at 820m/2690.29ft tall. To continue on with the records, it’s also an area that’s home to Wastwater, the deepest lake in the whole of England, measuring at 3 miles long, half a mile wide, and 78m /258 ft deep. It would be hard to do it, but make sure you don’t miss a trip to Scafell Pike if you’re visiting the Lake District. Click here for the best walks in the area.
Named after an Irish saint known in Northern Ireland as Domhanghart, Slieve Donard is the highest of the Mourne Mountains, and the views are dramatic to say the least. 850m/2789ft high, visitors of Slieve Donard will be able to see across the region, from Newcastle Beach, all the way through to Donnegal, Wales, and even Scotland.
The most popular route is the Slieve Donard Walk (also known as the Glen River Walk) that runs all the way up the mountain, and has rich woodland to explore and few bridges across the Glen River to enjoy. During the walk, it’s also worth checking out the Mourne Wall, a 1.5 metre high catchment that spans across 15 mountains in the area and took 20 years to build. Along with the breathtaking views, one thing that is particularly special about the Slieve Donard ascent is its closeness to the coast, which means you can start the journey from 0m.
Best for beginners
When it comes to hiking, there’s no need to go too big too early. Many of the most spectacular mountains in the UK have a beginner path, which often allow for views as scenic as the trickier climbs.
It is important to note however, that no matter how experienced you are as a walker, preparing for the right weather conditions with kit and clothing is vital. Always make sure you check the forecast before setting off.
Route: Cat bells walking route
Seen by many in the hiking community as one of the most ‘ideal starter mountains in the UK’, this is a route that will give beginners travelling to the Lake District just what they need. Although it is steep in certain places, the Cat Bells’ relatively easy summit (compared to the rest of the rest of the area) views of Derwentwater and Skiddaw will make it all worthwhile. It’s the type of mountain walk that will be a workout, but that also gives you a taster for harder climbs to come. For literary fans, it was a personal favourite of legendary children’s author Beatrix Potter, who wrote that one of her characters Mrs Tiggywinkle actually lived behind a tiny door at the Cat Bells.
Roseberry Topping, North York Moors
Route:Following Roseberry Lane
While this is more of a hill than an actual mountain, this short and steep walk is the right level for those new to the walking game. Known for it’s beautiful scenery running through Cleveland Way, Roseberry Topping is one of North Yorkshire’s most popular spots for beautiful scenery and views of the surrounding area. Steeped in history that dates back as far as the Viking times, on a clear day it’ll feel like you are top of the world (without actually being very high up).
Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons
Route: Loop starting at the Storey Arms pub.
As spectacular for views as it is simple to walk due to its well maintained path, this is an excellent option for inexperienced hikers who want a memorable day out. Pen y Fan is actually the highest peak in the whole of south wales and is often used for military training, so you may even see members of the special forces whilst out on your walk. There are a number of different ways to walk up the mountain, but for beginners the best option is the four mile loop which starts at the Storey Arms pub, which is also easily accessible from a car park, and takes visitors all the way up to the peak.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, Monmouthshire
Route: St Mary’s Vale
With a name as sweet as the walk itself, Sugar Loaf is similar to Roseberry Topping in the way it doesn’t require a great deal of stamina to summit, but once you’re at the peak, the views are breathtaking. These include the surrounding Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons, as well as South West England. It’s an area full of flora and fauna and brimming with birdlife, such as swallows, skylarks, house martins buzzards, red grouse and even red kites. The slopes of Sugar Loaf are made up of two deep valleys, St Mary’s Vale and the Cibi Valley, both of which also provide spectacular views for any visiting hikers.
Malvern Hills, Worcestershire and Herefordshire
Route & Distance: Numerous
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and stretching across three different English counties (Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire), so it’s important to know where’s suitable for walking if you’re a beginner. The three most popular routes for beginners are Black Hill Easier Access Trail, which is 200m long and takes walkers along the ridgeline of the Malvern Hills, the resurfaced woodland trail of Earnslaw Easier Access Trail, and Jubilee Drive Path, which offers both woodland and hill views. Click here for more information on these walks.
Mam Tor and the ‘Great Ridge'
Route: The Great Ridge
One of the standout spots of the Peak District, and home to two well preserved ancient forts, one from the Iron age and one from the Bronze age. Translated to 'The Mother hill’, Mam Tor’s summit stands at 517m/1696ft, towering over Casterton, which along with other spectacular views and the village of Hope is easily viewable by taking the well paved Great Ridge route. It also passes through Hollins Cross junction, which previously led toward Hope Church, before a new one was built at Edale. It is a route used for carrying coffins, and picked up the name ‘Coffin Road’.