British mountain guide: facts, definitions and the best peaks to climb

From Snowdon in Wales and Ben Nevis in Scotland to the towering heights of the Lake District Fells, here is our guide to the UK's most amazing mountains, including a brief look at the history of British mountain climbing, facts and the best peaks to climb

Snowdonia’s stately mountains offer the perfect ‘big challenge’, jaw-dropping views and an unbeatable sense of achievement ©Getty

While Britain may not have the towering peaks of European neighbours, it is spoilt for choice when it comes to mountains. our guide to the Our UK mountain guide looks briefly at British mountaineering history, mountain facts and the best peaks to climb

What is the highest mountain in Britain?

The tallest mountain in Britain is Ben Nevis (1,345m) in the Highland region of Scotland. Ben Nevis is known to locals as ‘The Ben’ and has two main walking tracks to the summit: The Mountain Track (or Tourist Track) and the more challenging Carn Mor Dearg Arête route (for experience hikers).

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The highest mountain in Wales is Snowdon (1,085m), in England it’s Scafell Pike (978m) and in Northern Ireland it’s Slieve Donard (850m).

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What is the definition of a mountain in the UK?

In the United Kingdom, a mountain is most commonly defined as landform that rises at least 610 metres (2,000 feet) above sea level, though this is sometimes rounded down to 600m. Definitions may also vary in accordance to topographical prominence – “the height of a peak relative to the lowest contour line around it but containing no higher summit within it”. In this case, the distance could be anything between 30 and 152m (100 or 500 feet).

Where are mountains found in the UK?

There are a number of mountains regions in the UK:

Scotland

Cairngorms, Northwest Highlands, Grampians, Cheviot Hills, Ochil Hills and Cuillins.

Wales

Black Mountains, Berwyns, Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, Clwydian Hills and the Moelwinions.

Northern Ireland

Mourne Mountains, Sperrin Mountains, Glens of Antrim.

England

Pennines, Lake District, Dartmoor.

Roughly two out three of the UK’s mountains are found in Scotland, and the top 10 highest mountains in England are all in the Lake District National Park.

Famous mountain writers and walkers

John Muir

Scottish-born environmentalist, naturalist, author and glaciologist John Muir was one of the world’s earliest and most influential conservationists and a lover of mountains. 

Two men at the top of a mountain
John Muir – one of Britain’s most famous walkers (Alamy)
The mountains are calling and I must go.In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
John Muir

Nan Shepherd

In 1932, Scots novelist and poet Nan Shepherd wrote to a friend to say she was off to London for a “sophisticated fortnight with theatres and new frocks to purge one of the lust for ice-cold peaks”. This was a lust, however, never to be purged. Her love affair with the Cairngorms in north-eastern Scotland lasted until her death in 1981 and inspired her masterpiece, The Living Mountain.

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Nan Shepherd
Nan Shepherd
Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.
Nan Shepherd

Alfred Wainwright

“No mountain profile in Lakeland arrests and excites the attention more than the Langdale Pikes,” wrote fellwalker,  author and artist Alfred Wainwright, now so synonymous with the Lake District and its mountains.

The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits.
Alfred Wainwright

Best mountain walks in Wales

Cnicht, Gwynedd – 689m

Cnicht Snowdonia ©Alamy
Cnicht, Snowdonia ©Alamy

Venture into the Moelwynion mountain range in Wales, climbing through a prehistoric landscape to the pyramidal zenith of mighty Cnicht. Map and route.


Pen y Fan, Powys – 886m

pen y fan ©Getty
Descending Pen y Fan ©Getty

Pen y Fan is one of the most popular peaks in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Most visitors hike to the mountain top from the Storey Arms – but for a quieter and more rewarding route, take the path up from Taf Fechan Forest past Neuadd Reservoir. Enjoy a quiet accent of Pen y Fan.

 


Cribyn, Powys – 795m

Cribyn, Powys
Cribyn, at 795m, sits 101m below the tallest peak in southern Britain, Pen y Fan ©Alamy

Often overshadowed by its towering neighbour, Pen y Fan, this verdant mountain in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales is one of Britain’s most understated peaks. Map and route.


Snowdon, Gwynedd – 1085m

Snowdon, Wales ©Getty
Snowdon, Wales ©Getty

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) is the highest mountain in England and Wales at 1,085m (3,560ft). The Snowdon range covers 16 square miles and gave birth to Welsh rock climbing in the 19th century. Take on the peaks and crags of Snowdon and immerse yourself in what is one of the wildest places in Wales with this seven-mile mountain walk.


Best mountain walks in England

Scafell Pike, Cumbria – 978m

Scafell Pike and Wastwater in Wasdale Valley, Lake District, Cumbria ©Getty
Scafell Pike and Wastwater in Wasdale Valley, Lake District, Cumbria ©Getty

England’s highest mountain, and also one of the most remote in the country. The peak is surrounded by a number of other fells, including Great End, Sca Fell and Broad Crag. Find out more about climbing Scafell Pike.


Old Man of Coniston, Cumbria – 803m

Old Man of Coniston Lake District ©Getty
Old Man of Coniston, Lake District ©Getty

Walk beside high tarns and copper-mining relics to a magical fell-top vista in the Lake District National Park. Map and route.


Kinder Scout, Derbyshire – 636m

Kinder Scout, Derbyshire ©Getty
Kinder Scout, Derbyshire ©Getty

Sandwiched between Manchester and Sheffield in Derbyshire, the bleak but beautiful upland plateau of Kinder Scout is a landscape of wind-swept waterfalls and rocky crags, perfect for hikers and scramblers alike. Map and route.


Ingleborough, North Yorkshire – 723m

Ingleborough, Yorkshire ©Alamy
Ingleborough, Yorkshire ©Alamy

Walk the second highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales, a mountain pockmarked with cavernous sinkholes, rumbling rivers and labyrinthine limestone paving. Map and route.


Cross Fell, Cumbria – 893m

Cross Fell, Cumbria ©Alamy
Cross Fell, Cumbria ©Alamy

Feel on top of the world by conquering one of Britain’s best hikes with in the North Pennines. Map and route.


Best mountain walks in Scotland

Suilven, Sutherland – 731m

Suilven Scotland
Suilven, Scotland ©Alamy

Steep, wild and remote, this Scottish giant is one of Britain’s most striking peaks – reaching its summit is difficult, but with spectacular views stretching out across the Highlands, it’s well worth the climb. Map and route.


Ben Lomond, Argyll and Bute – 974m

Hiking on Ben Lomond
Hiking on Ben Lomond ©Getty

Ben Lomond is the most climbed of the Scottish Munros, with a direct ascent of 974m to its summit. Climb north up the tourist path from Rowardennan, then either retrace your ascent route or take the rougher return along Ptarmigan Ridge to the west. Map and route.


Ben Nevis, Highland – 1,345m

Ben Nevis and Fort William from Corpach
Ben Nevis and Fort William from Corpach ©Alamy

The great bulk of Ben Nevis, part of the Grampian Mountain range, is the UKs highest mountain at 1,345m. It towers above Fort William in Lochaber. There are two main walking routes to the summit of Ben Nevis – The Mountain Track (or Tourist Track) and the more challenginge Carn Mor Dearg Arête route (for experience hikers).


Ben More, Isle of Mull, Argyll and Bute – 966m

Ben More, Scotland ©Getty
Ben More, Scotland ©Getty

Hike to the summit of this Hebridean giant and gaze out over island-strewn sea lochs and beach-straddled peninsulas – a fitting reward for conquering one of Scotland’s finest peaks. Map and route.


Best mountain walks in Northern Ireland

Slieve Binnian, County Down – 747m

Mourne Mountains ©Jake Graham
Bourne Mountains from the summit of Slieve Binnian ©Jake Graham

Severe weathering during the last ice age sculpted Slieve Binnian into the most distinctive peak in Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains. Map and route.


Slieve Bearnagh, County Down – 739m

Sleeve Bearnagh, Mournes, Northern ireland
Sleeve Bearnagh, Mournes, Northern ireland ©Alamy

Take on this tough upland walk, following a 100-year-old wall over peaks and cols through Northern Ireland’s Mountains of Mourne. Map and route.