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Diana’s Peak

Our highest point

One of the Seven Wonders of St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.
John Muir

Diana’s Peak is is highest place on our island, and also one of the more interesting.

This page is in indexes: Island Place, Island Activity, Island Detail

Diana’s Peak [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

Go to: Not just one, but three…The Diana’s Peak National ParkWalking Diana’s PeakBut who was Diana?7 Wonders of St Helena votingRead More

Not just one, but three…

Diana’s Peak is not alone - it’s part of a range of three summits, all almost equally lofty. The three summits are Diana’s Peak, Cuckold Point and Mount Actaeon. And, as can be seen from the article (below) there is some dispute as to which is which! The coordinates are 15°57’35”S, 5°41’29”W. The elevation of the highest peak is generally accepted to be 818m.

It is primarily an area for natural wildlife. 393 invertebrate species which have been recorded on the Central Peaks, 217 of which exist only in St Helena. These 217 endemic species represent more than half of the total number of species across the whole Island.

The Diana’s Peak range, seen from the road to Blue Hill [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
The Diana’s Peak range, seen from the road to Blue Hill

The Diana’s Peak National Park

The Diana’s Peak National Park was launched in March 1996, encompassing the area of the three peaks; a total area of 81 hectares. It is now part of the National Conservation Areas (530.7Kb). Most of the enclosed area is natural forest, though there still remain many areas of New Zealand Flax which are steadily being cleared.

You can read a 1996 document discussing the National Park (119.6Kb).

The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path. [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

The Diana’s Peak National Park is a huge success story in habitat restoration. Tree ferns and Black Cabbage Trees now dominate the landscape here, forming their own sunlight blocking canopy and preventing the re-establishment of flax on these slopes. In turn, these provide the niche microclimates for lichens and mosses, ground level ferns and other endemic shrubs and flowers as well of course as the hundreds of insect species.

The difference is striking, the path marking the limit of the current work, below our path a uniform green of flax, a desert devoid of all biodiversity. Above the path, a stunning patchwork of colour of tones and textures, a diverse habitat of rare and wonderful plants and animals. The results here are a testament to the many people who have worked on this landscape and as we left the national park, and re-entered the fields of flax I felt hope for St Helena and other rare and endangered habitats in this world. There is a great deal of trouble in the World for its precious wild places, but if a tiny out post of the old British Empire can achieve such results, maybe all is not lost.{a}

Walking Diana’s Peak

Mount Actaeon [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
Mount Actaeon

On a clear day Diana’s Peak offers stunning views right across the Island. The walking is not difficult, but it can be slippery when wet.

The walk starts from a parking lay-by on Stitch’s Ridge on the road towards Sandy Bay that leads off the ‘W’ road. Walk back a short distance and the start of the walk, up Cabbage Tree Road grass track, is clearly marked. Following this track brings you on to a ridge, where you bear right towards the Peaks (left here takes you to Halley’s Observatory). On reaching a cannon, bear left then right, following the stepped path onto the Peaks themselves.

The first peak reached is Mount Actaeon{1}, and has a large pine on the summit. Continuing on, the path drops slightly and then climbs back up to reach Diana’s Peak itself. This is part of the cloud forest of the Island and has many endemic plants and insects, including massive tree ferns. From Diana’s Peak the walk continues to the third peak along the ridge which is Cuckold’s Point.

Carry on from Cuckold’s and down a path through the tree ferns. At the bottom turn left along a broad track and follow this below the peaks, rejoining the outward path below Mount Actaeon. Then retrace your steps back along Cabbage Tree Road.

Allow 2-3 hours.

Route to Diana’s Peak [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
Route to Diana’s Peak{b}

Diana’s Peak path [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
Diana’s Peak path{b}

Walkers (!) and the post box on Diana’s Peak [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
Walkers (!) and the post box on Diana’s Peak

The Peaks range [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
The Peaks range

We climbed past ferns, thickets of flax and the occasional cannon to the highest point, Diana’s Peak. We noted the day’s significance in the Postbox on top, where you can record your presence and collect a stamp. From there, the whole island is visible, its green heart and harsh edges, and the endless ocean in all directions.{c}

The Peaks in the mist [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
The Peaks in the mist{b}

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

Walking up Diana’s Peak is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

More walks on our Walking St Helena page.

Flagstaff and The Barn, seen from Diana’s Peak [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
Flagstaff and The Barn, seen from Diana’s Peak

But who was Diana?

Nobody seems to know why Diana’s Peak is so named.

History provides us with many Dianas. The ancient Romans had Diana as goddess of the moon, the hunt, and chastity, though why any of these might apply to the highest point on St Helena is not clear. The place was certainly named a long time before Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-1997) became famous (or even, was born) - it is named as Diana’s Peak in ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808 and on Reid’s map of 1817.

The clue to the answer lies in the naming of the adjacent peak, Mount Actaeon. According to Roman legend, Diana was a virgin goddess and one day while bathing she was spied upon by Actaeon. Enraged she transformed him into a stag and set his own hunting dogs to kill him. 17th Century Portuguese maps give the name ‘Pico de Diana’, so the names may date to the early Portuguese holding of the island, but it remains unclear why anyone would choose those names for our highest points.

And another question follows: why is Cuckold’s Peak so named? Deriving from the cuckoo bird, a cuckold is a man who raises a child born by his wife but fathered by another, wittingly or unwittingly. What event led to this term being used to name one of St Helena’s highest points is also a mystery.

If you can help, please contact us.

Diana & Actaeon, by Titian, 1550s [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
Diana & Actaeon, by Titian, 1550s

7 Wonders of St Helena voting

7 Wonders badge [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

The following appeal by local conservationist, Dr. Rebecca Cairns-Wicks was broadcast on Radio St Helena prior to the Seven Wonders voting{d}:

Click on the icon to hear this audio file: 

(right-click to download) 

Click here to listen [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak] (332.3Kb)

The Peaks [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]{e}

Read More

Article: “Mountains or Molehills over peaks controversy

By Nick Hewes, published in the St Helena Independent 19th May 2006{2}

One day at the end of 2004 the Conservation Group went for a walk along the high ridge that forms the Diana’s Peak National Park. The main ridge runs more or less from east to west, cutting right across the middle of St Helena. As one passes from peak to peak, the views are, at least on a clear day, quite astounding. In some places the ridge is no more than a few feet wide, so that you are able to take in uninterrupted vistas to the north and south at the same time.

When our party arrived at the last of the three peaks (that is, the most easterly), Mount Actaeon, we all sat down for a rest. Glancing at an Ordnance Survey map, it was interesting to note that our whereabouts was designated, not as Mount Actaeon at all, but rather, as Cuckhold’s Point. Whereas the St Helena National Trust map listed Cuckhold’s as the most western of the three peaks. Obviously a rare Ordnance Survey printing error, I thought. Little did I realise that I’d just stumbled upon a truly bizarre mix up over the proper names of any of St Helena’s three peaks.

For the fact is, all three peaks - Mount Actaeon, Diana’s Peak and Cuckhold’s Point - have shared each other’s names at various points of history. As a recent St Helena National Trust document says,

The names of the three peaks have been recorded differently on various maps over time, which has and still is causing some controversy.

Peak names controversy [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

Some of the various versions of the naming of the peaks are listed below (with acknowledgements and thanks to the St Helena National Trust).

From the west, Cuckhold - Diana’s - Actaeon:

  • Trigonometric survey of the island of St Helena, George W. Mellis 1825-1836

  • 1984 Quentin Cronk’s several published papers and book

  • 1996 National Park Guide

  • 1996 National Park of St Helena Management Plan for 1996-2001, by Doug Smith and Nick Williams, Agriculture and Forestry Department

  • 2000 “St Helena and Ascension Island: a natural history” by Philip and Myrtle Ashmole (the footnote on page 125 explains the problem)

  • All signs and information in the Park erected by ANRD during the past decade

  • This is the sequence used by those who work on the Peaks

From the west, Actaeon - Diana’s - Cuckhold’s:

  • Royal Artillery map of 1850

  • Planters’ map of St Helena, 1852

  • Royal Engineers’ map of 1872

  • Current edition (1990) of Ordnance Survey Map

Maps of the peaks [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]
A recent Ordnance Survey map (left) and the current National Park map (right)

What is even more remarkable is that some maps even disagree on which peak is the highest. On some maps Diana’s Peak is given as the highest point, but many other sources - John Melliss, in 1875 for example{3} - instead list Actaeon as the highest. This may not sound like much to worry about, but don’t forget that you are talking about a country and its highest peak. The fact that there is confusion about the name of the highest point on the Island is touchingly and eccentrically odd - a bit like the Welsh not being able to agree on whether Snowdon or Cader Idris is their tallest mountain! As one commentator told me,

It’s so weird that this confusion could have come about on such a small island.

Sources showing Actaeon as the highest point include the following:

  • Maps from 1904, 1922 and 1956

  • 1966 publication (survey probably 1941) Ministry of Defence (War Office)

  • 1974 Ordnance Survey map

The Independent asked Dr. Rebecca Cairns Wicks, at the St Helena National Trust, about the controversy.

The first time I became aware of the confusion was ten years ago, when the Ashmoles were researching for their book on the natural history of St Helena. They wanted to get the names of the peaks right. At that time we were using Doug Smith’s interpretation [Doug was a naturalist who had come out here from UK on a DFID contract]. Doug himself had based the names on the system adopted by George Benjamin, (working for ANRD at the time), and George in his turn was going on the local knowledge of the time. It was a word-of-mouth thing really. So now our nomenclature [naming system] is just based on what we’ve been told. I’m sure that other people though, might see things differently. Some will say that Diana is the highest peak, and others will plump for Mount Actaeon. That’s how it’s always been. The mapmakers, now and in the past, will generally have gone and asked ordinary people about the names of local features; they will then base their maps on this information. I suspect that is what happened when the most recent Ordnance Survey map was being prepared. They just asked locals for their versions of the names. The names have been changed several times in the past. What can you do? How far do you go back? Do you go right back to the original nomenclature, or do you simply accept the most recent changes? It is a real problem at the moment because the maps produced by the Tourist Office and the Conservation Group tell you different things. In short, Actaeon and Cuckhold’s have been reversed. It would make sense to know which way round we’re getting it.

Rebecca says that another change in the names of the peaks would make life very difficult for the team of conservation workers who work on the ridges.

For the guys who work on the peaks, it makes much more sense to keep things as they are. We [the conservationists] are the only people who have consistently been up there over the last ten years. We’ve been managing 81 hectares, which have been divided into 69 different packets of land, each one of which has its own label. The people who work there have all these names in their heads. If we changed the names again, it would cause great difficulty in how to interpret the working records. If someone were told to go and irrigate Actaeon No. III, for example, it could be very confusing, because Mount Actaeon would be in a different place - it would have fundamentally changed its whereabouts! So all the workers would have to check and double-check these details on a daily basis, to make sure they were working in the right place.

The Head of the Tourist Office, Pamela Young, was asked for her opinion on the confusion over the names of the peaks. She said that even amongst Saints there is disagreement.

We’ve had queries from locals, and there is definitely a difference of opinion about which Peak is which. There is a basic contradiction about the names. I went up there at Christmas with a group of 12 local people, ranging from 47 to 62 years of age. Every member of that group insisted that the names of the peaks were different to how they remembered them, and that therefore the signs were incorrect. According to their memories, the names were the same as the OS map.

Lastly, The Independent paid a visit to the Legal and Lands Department, in order to ask the Planning Officer, Mr Gavin George for his views on the matter. He told me,

From a personal point of view, I would say that, as an Islander, Cuckhold’s is the most easterly peak [that is, the one nearest to Rock Rose and Levelwood]. And there are good historical reasons backing that up. For example, a Royal Artillery map of 1850, and also a Royal Engineers’ map of 1872, show Cuckhold’s to the east. Even as a boy I can remember Actaeon to be in the west; that is, the same as the OS maps.

Gavin says that the confusion is not just an academic matter. It could have serious consequences.

Imagine if a tourist seriously injured themselves on what is, according to the sign, Mount Actaeon. One of the injured person’s companions runs for help and rings the emergency services. Off goes the ambulance, and the navigator takes them, according to his or her Ordnance Survey map, to Mount Actaeon. Unfortunately however, they end up looking on completely the wrong hill, because the Tourist map and the sign contradict each other! It first came to light for me when I went walking a few months ago. The people I was with noticed a discrepancy between our map and the sign. They actually gave me some flak because they thought, what with me working in planning, that I must have changed the map!

How should the confusion be resolved?

I think that you should always go back to the source. One reason for doing that is that the changes in the names are quite recent. Why should history be changed, just because mistakes have been made in the recent past! Something’s got to give, because at the moment tourists who come here are quite confused, due to the signs saying something different to the maps. Rebecca and her team are following the knowledge that they have inherited from her predecessor. There are good reasons for doing that, but there is no possibility that the Ordnance Survey maps will be changed.

Perhaps the last word on this fascinating contradiction should be given to the writer Ian Mathieson. In his guidebook “Exploring St Helena: A Walker’s Guide”, Mathieson writes,

The names of the three peaks are the subject of one of St Helena’s more extraordinary and longrunning controversies. The case has been argued for the sequence of names to run, from the south, Diana - Actaeon - Cuckhold’s; or Actaeon - Diana - Cuckhold’s. The sequence used in this description is that used on the current maps (Cuckhold’s - Diana - Actaeon) but as to which is ‘correct’ there will probably never be agreement.

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

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closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]

Laugh at funny dianaspeak humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Diana’s Peak]


Credits:

{a} Quoted from the posting ‘Walking St Helena - Diana’s Peak’ on blog Two Years in the Atlantic{4}, 30th March 2015{2}

{b} Tourist Office

{c} From “Ship out to isolated St Helena before the planes land”, 13th February 2015, Mail & Guardian, South Africa{2}

{d} Manfred Rippich/Radio St Helena

{e} MJ Ltd. For more of his photos see our Photography page



Footnotes:

{1} Maybe, see the article

{2} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged

{3} ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, by John Melliss, published in 1875

{4} See more blogs.



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