I lift my eyes to the Hills
As I get older, inevitably it is harder to attain that sense of excitement at things which is a natural part of being young. However there remains for me a very special feeling whenever I get the chance to look at or, even better, climb a hill. A feeling which I don’t necessarily look for but which nonetheless catches me firmly as I first catch site of a hill or mountain in the distance or, when climbing, a grander or wider vista, opens before me. My wife, who is more a person of the coast, is prone to tease me for my love of the hills and argues that if I were to disclose my religious affiliation on the census it should really be “peak worshipper.”
There are many aspects of the hills which engender a sense of awe and excitement. There is something about their scale and grandeur, often reinforced by the weather, which challenges our human presumptions. Our race has often tamed the plains but it has not subdued the high places in anything like the same way. They remain, to a greater extent, Nature’s preserve which man can visit but not own.
Second there are issues of perspective. From the summit of a hill it can be possible to see fifty or hundred miles around you while on the ground the view might be limited to a mile or two or most. When admiring such a view I can agree with the poet Shelley who said:
“I love all waste
And solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be…”
On the top of a hill there is no limit to our imagination and no constraints on our hope.
However as well as the grandeur of summit views there are the wonderful moments when, on higher mountains, it is possible to walk above the clouds or other occasions, when walking in mist, that the clouds can, in a moment, blow away revealing a panorama on all sides.
Finally hills are the most personal, and in a way the most human, of landscape features. Once acquainted with the distinctive shape of hill it is instantly recognisable as would be the face of good friend, however long not seen. Yet at the same time hills offer infinite variations. There are mountains I could climb every day and have a different experience of them each time, with different seasons, different vegetation, and different light, different vistas.
To finish off this piece, and inspired by the Guardian’s excellent “6 of the best” series I would like to have a go at choosing and explaining my list of favourite hills. It is meant to provoke controversy amongst other hill lovers (after all I could hardly agree the list with myself!).
So here goes:
Pen y Ghent – Yorkshire
The most striking of the famous 3 peaks of Yorkshire, its name a legacy of when this part of the world was part of the Celtic kingdom of Elmet. A distinctive summit often clad with snow in the winter months, which demands some effort. It is, though, well worth the exertion in terms the views it offers to those who reach it. Climbed for the first time on my first weekend living in Yorkshire it became the symbol of my connection with God’s Own Country.
Watzmann – German Alps
The Alps are very special place for the mountain lover and it is invidious to choose one area of them let alone one peak. However Watzmann made a special impression when visiting the Bavarian Alps a couple of years ago. Germany’s second highest summit epitomises the grandeur of height, towering above its neighbours and dominating the views from the town of Bertchesgaden. Local legend has it that Watzmann is a cruel ancient king buried under a mountain of stones.
Tryfan – North Wales
Tryfan is a near perfect mountain in the Nant Ffrancon Valley in Snowdonia. It has a beauty of proportion, a craggy exterior and, unlike its neighbours, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach it stands proudly on its own. For the keen walker it is a fun climb with a bit of scambling which adds some excitement to the expedition. On a good day the views from the top of the mountain kingdom of the Princes of Gwynedd are sublime. It is one of the oldest of my mountain loves, remembered from the drive up to Bangor on childhood holidays.
Worcestershire Beacon – The Malvern Hills
The Malverns are not very high but in virtually every other respect they are beautiful set of hills, perfectly in scale with the landscape around them. Brought up in the south of Birmingham they were an obvious destination for a day out and for many years I walked on them as part of sponsored event for a local charity. Edward Elgar’s muse, they command a brilliant panorama on both sides, across to the Cotswolds to the East and to the hills of Wales to the west. Worcestershire Beacon is the highest peak standing above the town of Great Malvern.
Great Gable – Lake District
There had to be a choice from the Lakes where, Wainwright in hand, I first learnt to walk in the hills independently. Again there could be many choices but Great Gable is the one I have gone for. It is a well-shaped, independent mountain, offering an interesting ascent from a range of starting points and offers an excellent vantage point for many of the other star attractions of Lakeland.
Y Eifl – North Wales
Not surprisingly I return to North Wales for my last choice. Again not the tallest, these hills are perfect in form and beautifully situated on the edge of the sea along the windswept North Welsh coast between Clynnog Fawr and Nefyn. Their name (an old Welsh word for fork) describes their shape – three peaks on one ridge and it is often mistranslated, but not inappropriately, into English as “The Rivals”. Although remembered from childhood holidays it is only in recent years I have climbed them. One of the summits is an iron age hill fort (Caer y Cewri – Fort of the Giants) and its ancient choice as a symbol of authority and protection is as natural as the day is long.
So I have put my head above the parapet and named my six. Let other peak worshippers be as bold to counter my judgement and share their own selections. I am more than happy to be persuaded, especially if it means another day in the hills!