Now I don’t want to try to detract from the magnificence of Cadair Idris in any way. It’s a wild, rocky, challenging mountain in south Snowdonia, and is certainly up there with the best of them. However, there is a long-running myth that it is the 2nd highest mountain in Wales. Countless hotel and B&B owners in Dolgellau and the surrounding area (at the foot of the mountain) are happy telling their guests that this is indeed the case, and you regularly see the ‘fact’ quoted online. This morning I came across a travel piece by Wales Online (which I think was published in 2010) with the glorious headline of “Cader Idris: Wales’ second highest peak”.
Well, I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news, but lovely old Cadair Idris doesn’t even come close to being the 2nd.
There are of course various ways of classifying mountains, but two slightly differing methods are generally accepted as providing the definitive list of mountains in Wales over 2000ft. It all depends on how much of a drop between neighbouring summits you want to accept as the minimum for both summits to be classed as ‘separate’.
There are the Nuttalls, which was the better known list of peaks for years. John and Anne Nuttall used as their criteria for what can actually be said to separate one mountain from a near neighbour as 49 feet (15 metres) of descent from the summit on all sides before the next rise to a neighbouring summit. The Nuttalls list contains all the main peaks, obviously, but 50 feet is not a great height to have as a classifying criteria, as this list also includes a number of very minor bumps that absolutely nobody could honestly claim warrant the title of ‘individual mountain’. In practice just one contour on the map could make a bump a separate peak on the list of Nuttalls.
Then there are the Hewitts, which are still peaks over 2000ft, but which have a separating drop between one peak and the next of at least 30 metres (98 feet). This makes for a much more likable list of peaks where every one on the list could be said to be a separate mountain. There are 138 Hewitts in Wales (incidentally, Hewitt is an acronym for Hills of England, Wales & Ireland over Two Thousand feet).
So, in all honesty, it doesn’t make any difference which list of hills you use to get you out walking. Both the Nuttalls and Hewitts are great for this purpose (and indeed most of the summits are on both lists anyway). Whichever you use, Cadair Idris still can’t be made to be the 2nd highest mountain in Wales!
So, here’s the run-down of the top 20 mountains of Wales (with Cadair Idris being very low on the list).
1. Snowdon 3560ft (1085m)
2. Crib y Ddysgl (aka Garnedd Ugain) 3494ft (1065m)
3. Carnedd Llewelyn 3491ft (1064m)
4. Carnedd Dafydd 3425ft (1044m)
5. Glyder Fawr 3278ft (999m)
6. Glyder Fach 3261ft (994m)
7. Pen yr Ole Wen 3209ft (978m)
8. Grach 3202ft (976m)
9. Yr Elen 3156ft (962m)
10. Y Garn 3107 947m)
11. Foel-fras 3091ft (942m)
12. Carnedd Gwenllian 3038ft (926m)
13. Elidir Fawr 3031ft (924m)
14. Crib Goch 3028ft (923m)
15. Tryfan 3002ft (915m)
16. Aran Fawddwy 2976ft (907m)
17. Y Lliwedd 2946ft (898m)
18. Cadair Idris 2930ft (893m)
19. Pen y Fan 2907ft (886m)
20. Aran Benllyn 2904ft (885m)
Let’s hope this puts an end to the nonsense!