In the earliest days of the history of the British peaks, many were described as hills, and often measured in miles! Snowdon was considered to be a mile in height, as Observations on the Snowdon Mountains (1802) tells us. Yet many were still viewed as mere hills and eventually Snowdon was agreed to be no more than three-quarters of a mile in height. Going towards the 19th Century our mountains were being measured in either yards or feet, so Snowdon was 1190 yards as described in many publications, one being An account of the principal pleasure tours in England and Wales (1822.)
The assumption that Snowdon is a mile in height (1802)
By the 19th Century yards were being dropped in favour of feet. This seems to have been tied to the desire for the Victorian’s sense of adventure and exploration. Certainly 3570ft had more of a ring to it than 1190 yards. Not only that, it does appear that our English concern with all things in our country being so small, the Victorians found feet made our hills look and feel bigger.
Snowdon measured as 3565ft on the 1919 OS map
The introduction of the metrication system in 1969 led to a slow erosion of the British Imperial system. Metric money has brought up new wheezes where consumers are short changed or tricked by sound-bite prices, hence British metric mountains are a kind of short change. By the late 1970’s many of our mountains were being measured in metres. One cannot look at a OS map now in terms of feet. The Snowdonia Society says on its website “after the Ordnance Survey went metric in the seventies, the traverse of the four 1000 metres peaks, two in the Carneddau and two on Snowdon, has neither the same logic nor the same appeal.”
The obligatory metric givens that are now cited for the Snowdon massif
There are so few Welsh mountains at 1000m it seems a waste. The 15 summits at over 3000ft are definitely more interesting. It seems that anyone bagging the few Welsh 1000m peaks is looking for an easy challenge. Its like doing a Robinson rather than a Munro. Crucially it must be pointed out there isn’t much support for bagging the 1000m peaks of Scotland either (even though there are well over a hundred!)
Whether its 1000ft, 2000ft, 3000ft, these uniquely identify whether a British mountain becomes a Marilyn, Nuttall or a Corbett, or in Scotland, a Munro. 1000 metre peaks are an almost unnecessary, intrusive, category which means more pressure on the mountains. Many problems are now apparent with several types of mountain challenges and it would be perhaps best to try manage what we have rather than add new dilemmas. Adding Glyder Fawr to the magical 1000m would mean more people up there on an otherwise fairly quiet summit, bringing with it more litter and erosion. If Glyder Fawr is higher than it has been, thats great but lets dump the metres and show the world this unique British mountain has a height that is in feet.
Who says Glyder Fawr should be given as 1000m? Why not give it in feet too?
One of the arguments for metrication is that it jumps in bounds of tens and it is claimed this more advantageous than the British Imperial system (which jumps in bounds usually by twelves.) But in terms of height at least, feet is also ‘metric’ and jumps in groups of tens. There are no twelve feet equalling something else or other. Its a very good reason why we don’t need to stultify ourselves with metres for mountain heights.
Compiled 12 September 2010.
© 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa/Snowdon Splendour/Snowdon Wales