When the Olympic Torch visited the summit of Snowdon on its journey across the UK, it had to be wondered why, if the Oympics represent the spirit of pushing the boundaries of human physical achievement, the torch was taken to the top by train and not by foot! Indeed it was even carried by mountaineer Chris Bonington which makes it even more ironic! As he himself said, he had climbed Mount Snowdon many times, but had never before taken the easy way up. It was also remarkable that whilst the torch visited close to Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike, it was not taken to the top. Presumably as there was no mountain railway to take it!
Whether the murmurings of discontent, particularly from Scotland who felt the highest point in the UK should have been recognised had any effect, when the route was announced for the Paralympic Torch, Ben Nevis, along with the other peaks were to play a prominent part. Whereas the Olympic Flame was originally lit at Mount Olympus in Greece, the Paralympic Torch was to have its very beginnings on the tops of all four peaks in the UK– Ben Nevis in Scotland, Snowdon in Wales, Scafell Pike in England and Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland. Flames were created on the 22nd August at the summits, and will travel round their respective countries until coming together to form one Paralympic Torch at Stoke Mandeville on the 28th August.
At Snowdon, Lord Sebastian Coe joined a group of six scouts and walked up the mountain to the summit where the scouts made a spark by striking a ferrocerium rod against a rough steel surface. At the same time similar groups of girls and boys, along with other volunteers, were climbing and creating sparks at the summits of the other three mountains.
The climbers included both disabled and non-disabled walkers, and once lit the flame was brought down the mountains by foot. Blind hillwalker Bernadette Sloan, accompanied by her guide Danny McSherry lit the Northern Ireland torch. Climber Kevin Sheilds accompanied the scouts up Ben Nevis with a typical climb thought thick fog and rain. Karl Hinett, who was badly burned in a petrol bomb attack in Iraq which left him with multiple injuries climbed Scafell Pike.
So whilst the Olympic Torch concentrated on visiting populated areas in the spirit of uniting a nation, the creation of the Paralympics Torch perhaps represents the effort and determination of people to succeed whatever their ability or disability. Thousands of people climb the highest peaks in the UK everyday, and for some it is a real struggle to get there, but their efforts are rewarded with a fantastic personal sense of satisfaction and achievement when they reach the top.
The Olympics caused an upsurge in the numbers of people taking up or trying out new sports. Perhaps the publicity of the lighting of the flames at the summits will encourage people that they, too, can climb to the top of one Britain’s mountains.