National Trust revives the “world’s greatest war memorial”

Press release
Ranger works on Scafell Pike's summit cairn
Published : 10 May 2018

Work to repair and rebuild the summit cairn on England’s highest mountain has begun as part of a commemoration to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.

Rangers for the National Trust will spend up to two weeks working on the summit of Scafell Pike as they rebuild the summit cairn, in the walls of which is a plaque marking Scafell Pike as a war memorial.

This is a major undertaking for the team of 7 rangers, who are camping on the peak while they carry out the work, which includes resetting the memorial plaque within the walls of the 7.5 metre wide cairn. Steps to the top of the cairn will also be reinstated so that visitors can once again stand on the highest point of England’s highest peak.

The team will also place a time capsule into the stone wall of the cairn, filling it with details on the work undertaken, including plans, photos and information about the rangers themselves.

The time capsule will act as a record of the conservation work that goes into maintaining the mountain. Since the cairn was unveiled as a war memorial in 1921, there have been ongoing repairs, with the last major work taking place in the 1980s. The current conservation work is thought to be the most thorough restoration in the cairn’s 97 year history.

Scafell Pike was one of 14 Lakeland summits given to the National Trust in the years immediately after the Great War. Labelled the ‘Great Gift’, the peaks are Britain’s most spectacular memorial to those lost in the First World War.

Scafell Pike was gifted to the National Trust by Lord Leconfield in 1919; in 1920, Castle Crag in Borrowdale was gifted to the Trust by Sir William Hamer. Then, in 1923, there was a gift of breath-taking generosity in the shape of 12 summits, including Great Gable, which was given to the Trust by the Fell & Rock Climbing Club for people to have the freedom to enjoy the fells.

Lord Leconfield dedicated the gift “in perpetual memory of the men of the Lake District who fell for God and King, for freedom peace and right in the Great War 1914 – 1918.”

As well as being a historically significant site, Scafell Pike is also a fragile habitat, home to rare plants and designated a SSSI and Special Area of Conservation.

Today, more than 250,000 people climb Scafell Pike each year. The pressure of hundreds of thousands of boots, and the Cumbrian weather, leads to erosion of paths, which is an ongoing maintenance challenge. The conservation charity estimates around half a million pounds is needed to prevent further decline in the condition of the mountain.  

Sam Stalker, the National Trust’s lead ranger on Scafell Pike, said: “It’s great that so many people are able to enjoy Scafell Pike and the surrounding peaks each year. The mountains will be here forever, but they need ongoing care.

“Repairing the cairn is just part of the work we’ll be doing this year to keep Scafell Pike looking its best. It’s an exciting opportunity to share what we’re doing with our visitors and show them the hard work that goes into maintaining the Lakes for them and future generations to enjoy.”

100 years on from the end of the First World War, the rebuilding of the cairn on Scafell Pike is part of a series of commemorations by the National Trust in the Lake District.

As well as the re-dedication of the 14 mountain peaks, the Trust will also repair paths on Scafell Pike and Great Gable.

A project supported by the Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council will bring together musicians and choirs for a ‘song cycle’ across the 12 mountains of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club gift.

On Armistice Day, the National Trust will light a beacon on top of Scafell Pike, just as Lord Leconfield did on Peace Day – 19th July 1919.

Marian Silvester, General Manager for the National Trust, said, “Millions of people visit the Lake District each year, but few are familiar with the story behind these mountains, which we are extremely proud to look after. By repairing Scafell Pike’s cairn and re-dedicating the peaks, not only are we remembering the past, but looking to the future to ensure this inspiring landscape can be enjoyed by generations to come.”