GUEST BLOG: Mark Clarke author of High Point
- Monday 2 February 2015
100,000 feet climbed, 500 miles walked, one broken leg ...
In 2008 I set myself the goal to visit all eighty-five of Britain’s historic counties and to stand on the highest point of each one. Thirty-nine of these counties are in England, thirty-three in Scotland and thirteen in Wales. In August 2012, some four years later, I stood on Aran Fawddwy in Merioneth, Wales and my quest was complete: I had climbed over 100,000 feet and walked nearly 500 miles, visiting many of the most beautiful and remote parts of Britain. So far as I know, only one other person has ever completed this feat before.
I had visited all but a handful of the counties before, but all too often I was just passing through on some motorway or dual carriageway without time to gain any proper appreciation of them. Although I previously thought I had a reasonably good knowledge of British geography, I soon discovered I knew a lot less than I imagined! I went to several counties which I previously did not know existed − Wigtownshire, Clackmannanshire, Peeblesshire, Kincardineshire, Montgomeryshire − and about ninety per cent of the high point names were new to me.
So my project was a big step into the unknown; but it turned out to be the most fantastic treat, adventure and indeed education. It’s easily the best project I have ever done, appealing at many different levels and in many different ways − tremendous fun with countless learnings and pleasant little surprises throughout.
Forty-three of the county tops are over 2000 feet; twelve of these are over 3000 feet and two over 4000 feet. So some serious walking was needed in many of them, but not always − not at the unfortunately named Boring Field in Huntingdonshire, which has the distinction of being (at 262 feet) the lowest of Britain’s county tops, nor in Suffolk and Nottinghamshire where the high points are on roads, nor at Holme Fen in Cambridgeshire, which is (at minus nine feet) Britain’s lowest point.
Easily the biggest challenge on my journey came when I broke my leg on the remote moorland of Renfrewshire’s Hill of Stake − on my own, miles from anywhere and anyone, in the mist and without a mobile phone signal. A very tricky moment!
This accident was obviously disappointing in itself, but was doubly so as I had only three more counties to go and had planned to complete the full set of all counties just a few weeks later. It was quite a struggle to get my leg back to normal, and on many occasions I thought it would not be possible for me to finish the last three climbs. So when, in August 2012, I stood on Aran Fawddwy in Merioneth and completed my quest, I was naturally very pleased. This happiness was also tinged with sadness, as the project had been so memorable, and relief at finishing successfully, as the final three peaks I did that year proved to be quite a tall order in the circumstances.
By the end, I was widely travelled. I had not only climbed over 100,000 feet and walked nearly 500 miles; I had driven over 15,000 miles in cars, travelled over 8,000 miles in trains, flown over 12,000 miles in aeroplanes, and stayed in seventy-four B&Bs. All this in fifty-four trips from my home in London.
I discovered Britain is a superb place, a wonderful country with tremendous variety and assets, a delight to travel through, particularly when you are off the main roads and off the beaten track. It seems as good a place to live in and visit as anywhere in the world.
My book High Point, published last month by Vertebrate Publishing, is an account of the journey − its experiences, challenges and delights − and includes observations and historic information about each of the eighty-five counties. There is a description of each walking route, together with extracts from the relevant Ordnance Survey maps, plus some 140 photos. The book is for anyone interested in British county and country walks, British counties and county tops, and the British countryside. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Mark' s new book High Point: A guide to walking the summits of Great Britain’s 85 historic counties was published by Vertebrate Publishing in December 2014. Click here to find out more.
The hills and mountains included in High Point are:
England county high points
Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire. Walbury Hill, Berkshire. Haddington Hill, Buckinghamshire. Great Chishill, Cambridgeshire. Shining Tor, Cheshire. Brown Willy, Cornwall. Scafell Pike, Cumberland. Kinder Scout, Derbyshire. High Willhays, Devon. Lewesdon Hill, Dorset. Burnhope Seat, Durham. Chrishall Common, Essex. Cleeve Cloud, Gloucestershire. Pilot Hill, Hampshire. Black Mountain, Herefordshire. Pavis Wood, Hertfordshire. Boring Field, Huntingdonshire. Betsom’s Hill, Kent. Gragareth & Old Man of Coniston, Lancashire. Bardon Hill, Leicestershire. Normanby Top, Lincolnshire. Bushey Heath, Middlesex. Beacon Hill, Norfolk. Arbury Hill, Northamptonshire. The Cheviot, Northumberland. Newtonwood Lane, Nottinghamshire. Whitehorse Hill, Oxfordshire. Cold Overton Park Wood, Rutland. Brown Clee Hill, Shropshire. Dunkery Beacon, Somerset. Cheeks Hill, Staffordshire. Great Wood, Suffolk. Leith Hill, Surrey. Black Down, Sussex. Ebrington Hill, Warwickshire. Helvellyn, Westmorland. Milk Hill, Wiltshire. Worcestershire Beacon, Worcestershire. Mickle Fell & Whernside, Yorkshire. And Holme Fen, Britain’s Lowest Point.
Scotland county high points
Ben Macdui, Aberdeenshire & Banffshire. Glas Maol, Angus. Bidean nam Bian, Argyll. Blackcraig Hill, Ayrshire. Meikle Says Law, Berwickshire & East Lothian. Goatfell, Bute. Morven, Caithness. Ben Cleuch, Clackmannanshire. White Coomb, Dumfriesshire. Ben Vorlich, Dunbartonshire. West Lomond, Fife. Ben Nevis, Inverness-shire. Mount Battock, Kincardineshire. Innerdouny Hill, Kinross-shire. Merrick, Kirkcudbrightshire. Culter Fell, Lanarkshire. Blackhope Scar, Midlothian. Carn a Ghille Chearr, Morayshire. Carn Glas-choire, Nairnshire. Ward Hill, Orkney Islands. Broad Law, Peeblesshire & Selkirkshire. Ben Lawers, Perthshire. Hill of Stake, Renfrewshire. Carn Eige, Ross-shire & Cromarty. Hangingstone Hill, Roxburghshire. Ronas Hill, Shetland Islands. Ben Lomond, Stirlingshire. Ben More Assynt, Sutherland. An Cliseam (Clisham), Western Isles. West Cairn Hill, West Lothian. Craigairie Fell, Wigtownshire.
Wales county high points
Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey. Pen y Fan, Brecknockshire. Snowdon, Caernarfonshire. Plynlimon, Cardiganshire. Fan Foel, Carmarthenshire. Cadair Berwyn, Denbighshire. Moel Famau, Flintshire. Craig y Llyn, Glamorgan. Aran Fawddwy, Merioneth. Chwarel y Fan, Monmouthshire. Moel Sych, Montgomeryshire. Foel Cwmcerwyn, Pembrokeshire. Great Rhos, Radnorshire.