Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Cumbria claims Britain’s newest mountain as persistence pays off

The steep southern slopes of Calf Top, Britain’s newest mountain The steep southern slopes of Calf Top, Britain’s newest mountain Myrddyn Phillips
14 Sep
2016
As a Cumbrian hill in the Yorkshire Dales is offically declared a mountain by a mere six millimetres, Geographical talks to summit mapper Myrddyn Phillips about what defines a mountain

Last week, the Ordnance Survey made a mountain out of an old hill – Calf Top in the Yorkshire Dales. The beige loaf of a mount, dusted occasionally with snow, surpassed the mountain threshold by just six millimetres. A quarter of an inch. One third of a five pence coin.

‘A hill needs to be 609.6 metres, or 2,000 feet, above sea level to be classified as a mountain,’ says Welsh hill walker and mountain expert, Myrddyn Phillips. Phillips spent two hours collecting height data on the peak in question in 2010 and again in 2016. Calf Top did not register as tall enough the first time, measuring a tantalisingly close 609.579 metres. ‘The result was so close to the threshold that the OS advised us to go back and gather a further four hours of data,’ he says explaining that the longer an amount of time is spent on a mountain candidate, the more accurate the data becomes. ‘However, we are only talking tiny margins of improved accuracy,’ he clarifies.

Luckily, a small margin was all Calf Top needed. When Phillips came down the summit for a second time, it clocked in at 609.606m. ‘That was thrilling’ he says, ‘as we never know what the results are going to be until they are post-processed. For the known height to be changed six years after the first assessment felt like a job well done.’

Why is 609.6 metres the magic number between mountainous glory and hilly ignominy? For such a precise measurement, the answer is actually somewhat arbitrary as there is no universal distinction between the two. In the US, mountains are generally defined as rises over 1,000 feet, though there are many ‘mounts’ that are smaller. ‘Meanwhile, the UK’s 2,000 feet has mainly historical merit,’ says Phillips. ‘There has been a long tradition of list authors cataloguing the 2,000ft mountains of England and Wales and referring to these as such. Calf Top has become the 317th.’

In Scotland, where the Highland fault line has created thousands of peaks at much higher elevations, there is less need for a distinction between the two. ‘In Scotland, the word “hill” can be used in a generic way to encompass everything that is of significant height,’ says Phillips. ‘Even Everest is just a big hill.’

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Forests

The world’s second largest tropical forest receives significantly less funding…

Cities

The world’s first water-borne dairy farm has been erected on…

Cities

Continental Europe’s most extensive underground rail transport network, the Madrid…

Cities

A central highway in Brazil’s largest city is about to…

Cities

Urban photography marries themes and passages from TS Eliot in…

Mapping

From Leonardo da Vinci’s genius and the history of Starbucks,…

Mapping

How do you usually travel to work? Question 41 in…

Water

The Nile is home to mysteries both ancient and modern…

Places

While researching his main article on the world’s smallest countries,…

Places

Vitali Vitaliev briefly meets the down-to-earth ruler of Liectenstein

Places

In the third of his series on geopolitical oddities, Vitali…

Water

Increased rainfall intensity, predicted to occur as the climate changes,…

Deserts

Now in its fourth year, this annual lecture series highlights…

Cities

With Jakarta suffering from severe subsidence, pollution and congestion, Indonesia…

Mapping

A revolution in digital mapmaking is underway and the implications…

Cities

India has pledged $120billion to make its cities ‘smart’. But…

Cities

Buildings made from wood are becoming increasingly common in cities…

Forests

The lead author of a scientific study, which claimed that…

Cities

A team of researchers in Australia are urging urban planners…