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Diana’s Peak

Our highest point

All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.{e}

The highest place on the island, and also one of the more interesting‍‍

Not just one, but three…

Postage stamp
Postage stamp

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 elevation of the highest peak is, according to the Official Island Map, 2020, 820m, but recent GPS data given to us suggests it is actually 836.633m.

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 National Park

The Peaks central ridge has been the focus of many conservation interventions since the early 1990s because of its global importance for plant and invertebrate endemism.{f}

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 was constituted under Section 8(1)(a) of the Forestry Ordinance No. 9 of 1954, No. 25 of 1955 and No. 6 of 1957 and is now part of the National Conservation Areas{3}. 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.

Paul Tyson

See the photograph (right). The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path.

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 outpost of the old British Empire can achieve such results, maybe all is not lost.{h}

On 31st January 2019 it was announced that a £300,000 project had been approved by the Darwin Plus Initiative. Aimed at restoring the endemic habitats at the Peaks, the project is entitled ‘Fragmented cloud forest habitat rehabilitation through innovative invasive plant management’. The focus of the project also covers effective pollination of these plants by endemic and non-endemic insects.

The tree on top of Diana’s Peak is a Norfolk Island Pine. It was planted to help sailing ships get their bearings.

Walking Diana’s Peak

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{4}, 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.

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.{i}

More walks on our page Walking St Helena.

Names confusion

As explained in the article below, historically there has been some disagreement over which peak carries which name. The analysis below (extracted from some research done by Edward Baldwin) shows how the naming of the three peaks has varied over time, even recently:






Halley’ Mount





Diana’s (2704ft)









Cuckold’s not mentioned



Actaeon (2685ft)




Diana’s (820m)




Diana’s (823m)


Extract from the Official Island Map, 2020
Extract from the Official Island Map, 2020{j}

As at May 2020 the matter is probably now settled. The Government of St Helena has updated the Ordinance Survey maps (extract, right) with the ‘latest information’, and the sequence shown on that map (North to South) is:

…until somebody argues! Incidentally this map gives the height of Diana’s as 820m - rather lower than the 836.633m given to us by a recent GPS test, so there is still something to argue about.

But who was Diana?

Nobody seems to know why Diana’s Peak is so named. Kitching also does not explain it in his, usually reliable, ‘Handbook and Gazetteer of The Island of St Helena…’.

History provides us with more than one Diana. 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. It may be relevant that the adjacent peak is named 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.

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. 17th Century Portuguese maps give the name ‘Pico de Diana’, so the names may date to the early Portuguese holding of the island. What remains unclear is 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.

We asked for theories on Social Media and got a couple of suggestions…

Please contact us if you can help.

Is Diana’s Peak a ‘Mountain’?

An article which we reference on our Do they mean us? page refers to Diana’s Peak as a ‘Mountain’. We thought that was wrong, but consulting the Wikipedia and the Encyclopædia Britannica we aren’t so sure. Then it seems the UK has its own definition of a ‘Mountain’: According to UK standards In the United Kingdom, a mountain is most commonly defined as landform that rises at least 610 metres (2,000 feet) above sea level, though this is sometimes rounded down to 600m. Definitions may also vary in accordance to topographical prominence - ‘the height of a peak relative to the lowest contour line around it but containing no higher summit within it’. In this case, the distance could be anything between 30 and 152m (100 or 500 feet).. But whether a UK standard applies to St Helena is as hard to decide as whether a UK Law applies to St Helena. So is Diana’s Peak a ‘Mountain’? We think the simple answer is: it is if you want it to be.

Read More

Below: Article: Mountains or Molehills over peaks controversySeven Wonders Voting

Article: Mountains or Molehills over peaks controversy

By Nick Hewes, published in The Independent 19th May 2006{5}

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.

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’s - Diana’s - Actaeon:

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

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{10} - 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:

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{8}. Doug himself had based the names on the system adopted by George Benjamin, (working for A&NRD 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 the 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 and historian 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 long-running 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.

Seven Wonders Voting



The appeal (right), made by local conservationist, Dr. Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, was broadcast on Radio St Helena prior to the 2008 Seven Wonders voting:


{a} St Helena National Trust{b} Tourist Information Office{c} Government of St Helena{d} MJ Ltd{e} John Muir{f} Napoleon’s Garden Island by Donal P McCracken (2022){g} Government of St Helena{h} Quoted from the posting ‘Walking St Helena - Diana’s Peak’ on blog Two Years in the Atlantic{9}, 30th March 2015{5}{i} From Ship out to isolated St Helena before the planes land, 13th February 2015, Mail & Guardian, South Africa{5}{j} Government of St Helena{5}{k} Manfred Rippich/Radio St Helena


{1} Maybe, see the article.{2} We don’t normally show topless women on Saint Helena Island Info but apparently because this is art nobody minds. Look, don’t blame us - we don’t make the rules…{3} As at October 2023 38% of St Helena’s land was designated as one of the National Conservation Areas{g}.{4} Maybe, see the article.{5} @@RepDis@@{6} Anthony Nelson, 2000, ISBN 0 904614 61 1.{7} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{8} Doug was a naturalist who had come out here from the UK on a DFID contract.{9} See more blogs.{10} ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{7}’.