Songs on the Summits 1918-2018

people holding cards on a crag overlooking Wastwater

Throughout 2018 we're commemorating the gift of fourteen summits to the nation as a war memorial after the Great War, through a special 'leave no trace' arts project of a song cycle performed and recorded on the top of Great Gable and the other fells gifted by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and private landowners.

'The World's Greatest War Memorial'

At the end of the First World War the Fell and Rock Climbing Club created what was described as ‘The World’s Greatest War Memorial’ by giving 12 mountain summits to the nation with the words ‘we dedicate this space of hills to freedom’.

Two other summits were also gifted by private landowners, making 14 in total.

One hundred years after the ‘war to end all wars’ finished, we are commemorating the extraordinary vision of this great gift with a rather special project, called:

The Fellowship of Hill, and Wind, and Sunshine

To mark the breathtaking vision and generosity of this gift to the nation, we’re working on an arts project during 2018, as part of the Trust New Art programme funded by Arts Council England.

Informed by the mountaineering principle of ‘leave no trace’ we’re working with Mouthful –  leading professional musicians from the North of England – and amateur singers drawn from community choirs in Cumbria. Together we'll create a 'singing picnic' at Peace How – a tiny hill at the south end of Derwent Water which was given to the National Trust in 1917 so that those returning from the trenches could experience peace and tranquillity.

We also recruited singers to learn, perform and record a series of songs on many of the 14 summits dedicated as memorials after the end of the war.

" [they] surrendered their part in the fellowship of hill, and wind, and sunshine, that the freedom of this land, the freedom of our spirit, should endure."
- Geoffrey Winthrop Young

Cumbrian songwriter, musician and teacher Dave Camlin has created a new arrangement of the moving speech by poet, climber, war veteran and FRCC member Geoffrey Winthrop Young that was ‘declaimed in a trumpet voice’ on the summit of Great Gable at the dedication ceremony. The song will form part of the song cycle.

The song, entitled 'The Fellowship of Hill, and Wind, and Sunshine' was recorded on the summit of Great Gable in May 2018. You can listen to the recording here:

Stand with us in 2018 as we re-dedicate this space of hills to freedom

How you can get involved

An innovative research project into the impact of special places

The project also forms part of a research partnership with the University of York who recorded the mountain-top performances in virtual reality.

The virtual reality recording was installed at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery so that people who were unable to walk to the summits themselves could also join in the project by singing 'with' the choir in virtual reality.

All participants were asked to complete some surveys to research the impact that group singing in these special outdoor spaces has on people's sense of place, and to find out whether that impact can be replicated by singing with a virtual choir. This part of the project , is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Great Gift

Great Gable has become a deeply symbolic place for the outdoor community.

Few people know that it was not just Great Gable that the Fell and Rock Climbing Club gave to us to care for on behalf of the nation, but all the land above the 1,500ft contour line surrounding the peak – including 12 summits in total, that stretch out on either side of Sty Head Tarn.

The war memorial gift was the largest area that had ever been given to the Trust at the time
section of map from FRCC archive showing the gifted land
The war memorial gift was the largest area that had ever been given to the Trust at the time

The start of an avalanche

At the time, it was the largest gift of land that had ever been placed in the care of the National Trust, for the benefit of the people of Britain forever.

The gift of the 12 peaks to the Trust by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club was made in 1923. They are Lingmell, Broad Crag, Great End, Seathwaite Fell, Allen Crags, Glaramara, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Base Brown, Brandreth and Grey Knotts. 

Scafell Pike was also dedicated as a war memorial in 1919 by Lord Leconfield, and Castle Crag in 1920 by the relatives of 2nd Lieutenant John Hamer, dedicated to his memory and to 'then men of Borrowdale'.

These donations triggered a series of endowments to the Trust and a marked a transformational moment in the nation’s relationship with beautiful landscapes, paving the way for the formation of the first national park.

Now the National Trust cares for nearly 20% of the Lake District national park, which is visited by 15 million people each year.