Re-visiting Great Rhos (and an explanation to Summits on the Air)


Day 28 of Heights of Madness was spent on Great Rhos, the 660-metre high point of the mid-Welsh county of Radnorshire. On the summit, I spoke to an aficionado – Tupperware man, I called him – of a group called Summits on the Air. I mention this now as I can see from this discussion that Tupperware man has been traced. Tupperware man is Peter. In hindsight, I was harsh on Peter, harsher on Summits on the Air. Your pursuit is no more odd than a man cycling and walking between the highest points of the UK’s 92 counties. The contents of the conversation Peter and I had were accurate. My poetic licence may have ran away a little. And I regret using the word ‘drool’. Here is what I wrote:

Rising three miles to the northwest of the tenth-century village of New Radnor is Great Rhos, the green dome summit of Radnorshire. A multitude of signs warn the walker about a great swathe of land on the mountain’s southern slopes, which is used as an ammunition testing area. Walkers must not stray onto the land when red flags are hoisted, the signs instruct. Today, the red flags were flying, but presumably the hundreds of sheep grazing in the ‘danger area’ were not at risk of being struck by a flying bullet. Still, I wasn’t going to take the chance and followed a grassy track that led around the perimeter of the firing zone.

On the Black Mountain look-a-like summit, I came across a middle-aged man in a flat cap and raincoat, who was in the process of lowering an aerial and packing up radio equipment. Each item was carefully ordered into individual Tupperware containers before he put them all into one large Tupperware box. Then he pulled out yet another item of Tupperware containing what resembled a beetroot sandwich. As he didn’t look like he was going to tell me what he was up to, I asked.

‘I thought you’d want to know,’ Tupperware man laughed smugly. ‘People always do.’

I instantly wished I had not let curiosity get the better of me.

‘I use the radio to talk to people on other mountains. It’s called Summits on the Air,’ he explained. ‘You must have heard of it?’

‘Um… no.’

Summits on the Air sounds like it could be the next extreme-sport craze. In reality, it involves a group of walkers who communicate with one another from specific high points across the globe. ‘It combines my two interests,’ he said, ‘walking and radios.’

Each qualifying mountain is designated a score. Ben Nevis, for instance, earns ten because of its height, while the lower Aran Fawddwy gets eight and Great Rhos just four. However, the scoring system appears somewhat biased in the favour of British hills and mountains. While a walker can earn ten points for climbing Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis, ten points in Switzerland is harder to come by. You have to climb the 3,970-metre Eiger to earn that. Why does this matter you ask? Well, there are prestigious prizes on offer. Top mountain chasers are presented with the Mountain Goat award and the losers get the Shack Sloth plaque.

Tupperware man said he’d been on the summit for 90 minutes and in that time had spoken to Ben Nevis. ‘I mean someone on Ben Nevis,’ he quickly corrected himself.

I wondered what they could possibly talk about.

‘Hello, Great Rhos here, anybody there?’

‘This is Ben Nevis. What’s the view like?’

‘Wonderful. Yours?’

‘Great.’

‘What’s the weather like?’

‘Windy.’

‘Windy here too.’

‘Better go – I’ve got the Matterhorn on the other line.’

‘I’m doing the county tops,’ I said.

‘Oh right,’ Tupperware man acknowledged without a shred of excitement.

‘On my own, continuous journey, just cycling and walking – in 92 days.’

‘I think I’ll head over to Gwaunceste Hill. Only three points though.’

Having failed to impress Tupperware man, I left him alone on the summit to drool over his next hill and descended to New Radnor.

Heights map

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