How do you pronounce Scafell Pike?

Q. Having not yet been to Scafell Pike - walks c110  c111  c166  c172  c194  c197  c215  c233  c271  c370  c416  c453  c454  but I wondered how the locals pronounce the name -any ideas?

Derek, Sevenoaks


A. Whilst most people see Scafell Pike and pronounce it as Scar Fell Pike- it is in fact pronounced 'Scoreful Pike' or 'Skawful Pike' with the emphasis on the first syllable.

Indeed, in some places in the Lake District you will see it spelt as Scawfell Pike.

Hope this helps

Mike (Editor)


A. The earliest map of Cumberland that shows names of the mountains is the Donald map of 1774 - earlier maps concentrated on showing the passes through the mountains. This map is possibly the origin of the spelling "Scafell" - but there are spelling errors all over it, including some with no other variations elsewhere. If you look carefully at the Donald map, it is possible that the "w" was dropped as it got in the way of the hatching that denoted the summit. The engraver would have had no idea that it was England's highest mountain (he was in London and no-one had measured any heights then).

Coleridge was not local to the area and he probably armed himself with the Donald map (or a plagiarised copy - plagiarism was rife among map-makers - John Speede, most famous of the early cartographers, said that he had "dipped his sickle in other men's corn"). Wordsworth, just a few years after Coleridge, consistently used "Scawfell" - and he wrote a very popular guide book to the Lake District. (I wonder if it made more money than poetry...)

"Scawfell" was the overwhelmingly commonest spelling from the beginning of the 19th century to 1867, and then there was a slow shift to "Scafell" with the switchover being in about 1920. This applies across Britain, not just locally to the mountain. You can track this in old newspapers.

The compromise name given to Scafell Pike (as opposed to being just one of "the Pikes") arrived some time between 1818 and 1856. We know this from the work of Jonathan Otley, who was one of the first people to measure the height of the fells (as did John Dalton - famous for the Atomic Theory). Otley gives a somewhat oblique account of the development of a name for England's highest peak - but I cannot track when he wrote this. However, he died in 1856 and his own map of 1818 just has "Scawfell" and "the Pikes".

The significance of the OS and their "Name Book" procedures is that this fixed the placenames for virtually everywhere in Britain. They have a project to correct Gaelic names that were not recognised when Scotland was mapped, but I don't believe they've ever corrected a name in England.

I am hesitant about the Placename society suggested derivation for "Scafell". I understand that there are substantial regional variations between Norse dialects. I also gather that the Vikings who settled in and around Wasdale spoke a different variety from those in other parts of Britain. I have seen "Scaw" interpreted as meaning a headland (as in coastal navigation) - certainly the cloud often flows around the fell to give that sort of appearance (but every view of Scafell looks different 5 minutes later - unless it's obliterated by cloud all day). Also, if you study a map of West Cumbria, you will find a good handful of other placenames which start "Scaw". So perhaps it's either a regional Norse dialect word or possibly a person's name.

Jon Ward, Seascale


A. There was, surprisingly, life (and maps) before the O.S. The name is thought to be derived from Old Norse 'skalli' - bald head (otherwise stony) In the Place Names of Cumberland it is listed as spelt being 'Scofell' or 'Scowfell' in 1790, whilst in 1802 Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred to it as 'Sca fell'. The OS came up with Scafell Pikes in 1867.

It seems generally accepted that Scafell was the parent fell (albeit lower), and the others - Scafell Pike, Broad Crag and Ill Crag were collectively the 'Pikes of Scafell'

Peter , Cumberland


A. The pronunciation problem originates from a spelling mistake by the Ordnance Survey. The local spelling when Wasdale was first mapped by the OS (in 1867) was "Scawfell". The OS had been using Scafell as one corner of the Principle Triangles that fixed locations across Britain - but unlike most of these, they did not actually take any measurements from Scafell until they needed to fix the relative positions of Britain and Ireland (by taking bearings of Slieve Donard on a very clear day). By then the OS had perpetuated an error on an earlier map (which is full of placename errors) - familiarity bred contempt, and they failed to use their "namebook" procedures that should have captured the local usage. The old spelling was the commonest form until about 1920 and still continues as street names (and Scawfell Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia). Sadly this spelling change disconnects us from the history of this mountain group.

Jon Ward, Seascale


A. I wonder if it used to be a Norse which seems to be pronounced between 'oh' and 'ow' (as in pain!)?

Andy Forrest, York


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