THE BEST 20 MOUNTAINS

During the long winter nights and a few trips to the Pub, we have been debating which are the best twenty mountains in the Top 500 Summits of Britain and Ireland. Whilst the Top 500 Summits is a strict mathematical list (the highest 500 mountains in Britain and Ireland with a drop of 500 foot on all sides) the list below is totally subjective. Views are welcome, what should definitely be on the list, what should be omitted.

Here is our choice

1. An Teallach, Dundonnel, NW Scotland (3,484 feet)

An Teallach is splendidly perched overlooking Loch Broom to the north and the wilderness of the Fisherfield Forest to the south. The mountain is comprised of a serrated, jagged ridge soaring into the sky and is ridiculously impressive when approached from the north and east.

Walking the complete ridge gives one of the great days in Britain, in our opinion unsurpassed.

An Teallach

An Teallach

3rd Pinnacle

3rd Pinnacle from Gillean summit

2. Sgurr nan Gillean, Isle of Skye (3,167 feet)

The Cuillin Ridge is the finest ridge in Britain and arguably anywhere in the world. It stretches 12 kilometres from one end to the other along narrow ridges and over jagged rock peaks. The stand out peak is Sgurr an Gillean at the north end of the ridge superbly seen from the Sligachan Hotel.

The picture shows us approaching the summit by the Pinnacle Ridge. The Southeast ridge is the best route for walkers, it is not easy and requires a good head for heights.

3. Brandon Mountain, West of Ireland (3,127 feet)

The Brandon Mountain stands on the western tip of the Dingle Peninsula in south west Ireland. There is no finer location or place to be in the world particularly when the sun shines. The Brandon Mountain with its superb ridges is a great mountain which does justice to this lovely place. It is a true colossus which never disappoints.

From Brandon Peak

Brandon Mountain from Brandon Peak

Ladhar-Bheinn

The long ridges of Ladhar Bheinn.

4. Ladhar Bheinn, Knoydart, West  Highlands (3,345 feet)

Ladhar Bheinn lies in Knoydart above Loch Hourn in the far west of the Scottish mainland. Few people see its true glory since it takes at least two hours by foot to reach Barrisdale Bay, the start point for the ascent and from where it is best viewed. The mountain with its long ridges seems to rise straight out of the sea.

Although it is nearly 3,500 feet of climbing from Barrisdale Bay, time passes quickly in this magnificent place.

5. Liathach, Torridon, NW Scotland (3,460 feet)

In our view Liathach is the greatest of the Torridonian giants which also include Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe. Its steep southern wall rises directly from the Kinlochewe to Torridon road but there are paths which enable the fine summit ridge to be attained relatively quickly. The views over the Flowerdale Forest to the north and the Munros and Corbetts spread-eagled to the south are unsurpassed.

Looking towards Beinn Eighe

Looking towards Beinn Eighe.

North face of Ben Nevis

North Face of Nevis

6. Ben Nevis, Western Highlands (4,411 feet)

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain and Ireland but it is not included at number six on the list just for that reason. Ben Nevis looks like the biggest mountain in Britain; as you near the summit the true scale of the mountain can be appreciated, it is clearly much higher  than all the mountains around.

Its north face is a climbers paradise and its magnificent Tower Ridge can be climbed by ordinary mortals roped up with a guide.

7. Tryfan, North Wales (3,010 feet)

Tryfan recently won a survey amongst walkers as the best mountain in Britain and we love it. From the road it looks great, unlike any other mountain you will ever see. Any route up involves some scrambling but it is fun and interesting. Attempting the jump from Adam to Eve at the summit is not recommended but I attach a picture anyway.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve, Tryfan summit

Cobbler from Beinn Narnain

The Cobbler from Beinn Narnain

8. The Cobbler, Southern Highlands (2,899 feet)

The Cobbler combines history and a spectacular mountain. It is best seen from Arrochar with its three summits, the North Peak, the Central Peak and Corbett, and the South Peak clearly visible. It is worth reading Alastair Borthwick’s book on Scottish rock climbing in the 1930s ‘Always a little further’ before a visit to the Cobbler.

Also, beware the sting in the tail, the tricky summit rock pinnacle.

9. Helvellyn, Lake District (3,116 feet)

In a recent survey of Britain’s best walks Helvellyn finished first. Its magnificent ridges, Striding Edge and Swirral Edge are its defining feature and make it England’s best mountain. There are many routes which leads to the summit, the one from Patterdale over Striding Edge is the most popular.

Striding Edge and Red Tarn

Striding Edge and Red Tarn

foinaven

Foinaven 

10. Foinaven, Northern Highlands (2,988 feet)

One of the great ‘high priests’ of the far north of Scotland, Foinaven is a magnificent mountain, a complex mass of narrow, shattered quartzite ridges. If combined with Arkle, its smaller neighbour, it gives one of the great ‘big walks’ of Britain.

In 2009 ago there was some thought as to whether it reached the 3,000 foot mark required for Munro status but it is twelve feet short.

11. Mweelrea, West of Ireland (2,671 feet)

Although it is Ireland’s second entry in the top 20,  Mweelrea is not a well known mountain. It is found south west of Westport, between the sea and Doo Lough, a beautiful lake. The horseshoe walk over Mweelrea and Ben Lugmore (also a top 500 summit) from the Delphi mountain resort is a gem. On the ascent of Mweelrea, a steep ridge overlooks Killary Harbour and the seven Bens of Connemara. To the west lies the wild Atlantic Ocean. This walk should not be missed.

Mweelrea, West Ireland

Mweelrea

Ben Cruachan

Ben Cruachan

12. Ben Cruachan, Southern Highlands (3,695 feet)

Sometimes known as the ‘Hollow mountain’ because of the man made cavern beneath it, Ben Cruachan is probably the best mountain in the southern highlands. From the visitors centre a circuit can be completed over Ben Cruachan’s narrow ridges taking in two Munros and a Corbett.

13. Blencathra, Lake District (2,847 feet)

Blencathra lies directly above our cottage in Threlekld. However, there is no bias in including it at number thirteen in the list. Sometimes known as Saddleback, it can be seen from the M6 and guards the approach from that motorway to Keswick. A mass of ridges, including Halls Fell and Sharp Edge, plunge to gushing streams and the occasional tarn. Blencathra epitomises all that is best about the Lake District.

Approaching Blencathra

Blencathra from near Threlkeld

snowdon

Snowdon from near Pen y Pass

14. Snowdon, North Wales (3,560 feet)

Could any top twenty list be complete without Snowdon? Arguably Snowdon is the best known and most climbed mountain in Britain and Ireland. The train gives an easy way to the summit and a visit to the cafe on reaching the summit is an unusual feature. Snowdon is a great mountain with the sharpest ridge outside of Scotland, Crib Goch.

The Snowdon horseshoe is one of Britain’s best walks but needs a good head for heights.

15. Sgurr na Ciche, Knoydart, NW Highlands (3,412 feet)

Sgurr na Ciche is the most remote mountain in the best 20. It is a classic rock peak overlooking Loch Nevis in the rough bounds of Knoydart.  This area contains many classic summits including beautiful Ben Aden above the west end of Loch Quoich. In our view, however, Ladhar Bheinn and Sgurr na Ciche are the best two mountains in the area.

sgurr-na-ciche

Sgurr na Ciche 

Bidein nan Bian

Three Sisters of Bidean nan Bian

16. Bidean nan Bian, Glencoe (3,773 feet)

Bidean nam Bian contains a multiplicity of ridges and corries dominating the south side of Glencoe. It is the king of Glencoe dominating the landscape for miles around. There are good routes up it from the A82. The classic route goes through the ‘lost valley’ used by the Macdonalds to hide stolen cattle. On reaching the summit ridge, a second Munro, Stob Coire Sgreamhach, can be added.

17. Cir Mhor, Isle of Arran (2,620 feet)

The Scottish Islands contain many great mountains, the Cuillin of Skye and Rum, the Paps of Jura and the Arran Corbetts. Sgurr an Gillean is already in this list at number two and Blaven is very close to the best 20. The Paps of Jura and the Cuillin of Rum should not be missed.  Cir Mhor sits in the middle of the Arran Corbetts, it is the ultimate rock peak, steep on all sides, and attracts the eye from any direction. It is a great peak in its own right and had to be included.

cir-mhor-arran

Cir Mhor on Arran

cader-idris

Cadair Idris 

18. Cadair Idris, North Wales (2,929 feet)

When I discuss the Top 500 Summits with friends many of them ask, is Cadair Idris included? This is a very popular mountain, its name rolls off the tongue, and the high level circuit of Cwm Cau from Minffordd gives a fabulous days walking. Views extend across Snowdonia and the Irish Sea. Cadair Idris is a mountain to return to often.

19. Great Gable, Lake District (2,949 feet)

Great Gable is a famous peak in British Mountaineering history. Pictures of climbers on Napes Needle can be seen often in hotels and Guest Houses. Its true glory can be discovered by ascending from Sty Head via the climbers traverse but hold on to your rucksack. Mine rolled 200 feet down a scree slope.

c-on-summit

Summit of Gable

slioch-nw-ridge

NW ridge of Slioch

20. Slioch, NW Scotland (3,217 feet)

Slioch is number 20 on the list but still an incredibly impressive mountain. It towers above Loch Maree in the northern highlands and is the gateway to the very remote Fisherfield Forest if approaching from Kinlochewe. There are many unexpected ridges and corries.

In the 1950s our dad, Tom, used to cycle round Scotland. He told us that Slioch was the best mountain he had seen.

If you disagree (many will!) feel free to drop your thoughts to barry.k.smith@hotmail.co.uk or jonathan@where2walk.co.uk