hidden europe 58

The Highs and Lows of Travel: Summit Bagging Reconsidered

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Which is more important — the mountain or the summit? Looking towards the Snowdon Horseshoe from the east (photo © Rory Trappe / dreamstime.com).


The highest points of Luxembourg, Moldova and Belarus don't feature on any lists of Europe's greatest mountains. Nicky Gardner reflects on the enduring appeal of the summit, and asks whether the lowest points in different countries might also warrant a detour. In Norway, it's possible to drive to 287 metres below sea level.

hidden europe co-editor Nicky Gardner reflects on whether it makes sense to search out topographic extremities.

I have always relished engaging with landscape as something to be loved and understood rather than conquered. To me, the mountain has always been more important than the summit. It was never indolence that made me hesitate about striking out for the summit, but rather an understanding that the summit is often the most crowded part of a mountain — and, dare I say, often the least interesting.

No surprise, therefore, that although I’ve spent many longish spells in the Alps, it has never once crossed my mind that it might be entertaining to bag a few peaks. In Scotland, I’ve ticked off a score of Munros, but more by accident than by design. Meall Dearg is a good example. It is a handsome Munro which one takes in along the way on the Aonach Eagach ridge above Glencoe.

As a student, I spent the greater part of one university summer vacation in Snowdonia, and used those weeks to get to know one mountain in particular, taking time to discover every crag and cwm. It may seem a bit obsessive to spend 30 days on one mountain, rather than roaming widely over a range of peaks, but I’d say it was immensely more satisfying, taking time to explore every crevice in the rough contours of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), hardly ever venturing to her summit.

Britton Hill

Of course, it would be a particularly perverse explorer, and a negligent travel writer, who studiously ignored or even purposefully avoided every summit. There was an occasion when, while driving across the Alabama-Florida stateline — regular readers of this magazine will recognise that borders always excite the hidden europe imagination — I saw a sign to Britton Hill.

This is, you’ll understand, a pretty two-dimensional landscape; drive through the Florida Panhandle and adjacent areas of southern Alabama and you’ll scarcely see as much as a pimple on the horizon. But Britton Hill, all 105 metres of it, styles itself as the highest point in the entire state of Florida, a statistical detail which elevates it from being merely a parochial hillock to something more stately.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 58.
Related article

Return to Eriskay: A Hebridean community

Living on a small island demands a willingness to make compromises. Yet islands still have a special appeal. We make time for one of our favourite islands. Nothing much ever happens on Eriskay, and to be honest there’s not really much to see. But this outpost in the Outer Hebrides has a very special magic.