hidden europe co-editor Nicky Gardner reflects on whether it makes sense to search out topographic extremities.
I have always relished engaging with landscape as something to be loved and understood rather than conquered. To me, the mountain has always been more important than the summit. It was never indolence that made me hesitate about striking out for the summit, but rather an understanding that the summit is often the most crowded part of a mountain — and, dare I say, often the least interesting.
No surprise, therefore, that although I’ve spent many longish spells in the Alps, it has never once crossed my mind that it might be entertaining to bag a few peaks. In Scotland, I’ve ticked off a score of Munros, but more by accident than by design. Meall Dearg is a good example. It is a handsome Munro which one takes in along the way on the Aonach Eagach ridge above Glencoe.
As a student, I spent the greater part of one university summer vacation in Snowdonia, and used those weeks to get to know one mountain in particular, taking time to discover every crag and cwm. It may seem a bit obsessive to spend 30 days on one mountain, rather than roaming widely over a range of peaks, but I’d say it was immensely more satisfying, taking time to explore every crevice in the rough contours of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), hardly ever venturing to her summit.
Of course, it would be a particularly perverse explorer, and a negligent travel writer, who studiously ignored or even purposefully avoided every summit. There was an occasion when, while driving across the Alabama-Florida stateline — regular readers of this magazine will recognise that borders always excite the hidden europe imagination — I saw a sign to Britton Hill.
This is, you’ll understand, a pretty two-dimensional landscape; drive through the Florida Panhandle and adjacent areas of southern Alabama and you’ll scarcely see as much as a pimple on the horizon. But Britton Hill, all 105 metres of it, styles itself as the highest point in the entire state of Florida, a statistical detail which elevates it from being merely a parochial hillock to something more stately.