To (Scafell) Pike or not to (Scafell) Pike

Published 16 June 2024

The summit of Scafell, partially hidden by cloud, seen from the top of Scafell Pike
Scafell partially disappears in the cloud trying to cover the top of its neighbour.

There’s a mere 14m difference in height between England’s two highest mountains. The second, Scafell, comes in at 964m. The highest, neighbouring Scafell Pike, is 978m. Both pale compared to Yr Wyddfa, or Snowdon as many will know it at. That comes in at 1,085m.

It’s always felt a bit wrong to me that the names are as they are. Shouldn’t the higher of the two be called Scafell, and the lesser Scafell Pike? That second word makes it sound like Scafell Pike is secondary to its neighbour, when in actual fact, it’s not. But the naming comes from the fact that, from many angles, it’s Scafell that appears to be the bigger of the two.

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that it was realised that the Pike was higher. Indeed, until around then, Scafell Pike didn’t even have a name. It was merely one of the “Pikes of Scafell”.

It’s unlikely most people even think about this as they climb up Scafell Pike. In fact, most of the people climbing Scafell Pike won’t even give much thought to its neighbour, just over a kilometre away. Why would they? It’s not England’s highest mountain, after all?

Still, the secondary top lends its name to the primary. And when it comes to names, Scafell won that battle a long time ago.

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