7 Wonders of St Helena – Diana’s Peak National Park, climbing to St Helena’s highest point
The island has spoken and Diana’s Peak National Park remains one of St Helena’s most recommended excursions for hikers, families and environmental enthusiasts.
Standing at 823m above sea-level and housing over 200 of the island’s invasive species, the National Park was launched in March 1996 and is part of the National Conservation Area. The three peaks are Diana’s Peak, Cockhold’s Point and Mount Actaeon.
The park contains some of the best remaining habitat on St Helena. Diana’s Peak is the highest point on the island and has a unique community of flora and fauna. The area of the Peaks National Park was extended in 2015 to incorporate much of the central ridge, including both the George Benjamin and Clifford arboretums and High Peak.
Amongst the endemics that grow at Diana’s Peak are the He Cabbage Tree, the Dogwood, Whitewood, St Helena Lobelia, the Jellico, Diana’s Peak Grass, Tree Fern and Lays Back Fern. The Tree Ferns are most distinct and can reach 6m, but more often grows to between 4 – 5m tall. The fronds, often three metres long, grow from the top of the long trunk giving the Tree Fern a palm-like appearance. Current distribution is above the 700m altitude where it flourishes at both Diana’s Peak and High Peak.
In 2016, a blog was posted about the possible names of the Peaks, here’s a look back:
In Sharing research conducted by Chris Hillman, former director of the St Helena National Trust, we look into the names of the Island’s highest peaks. When and why the three names, Diana, Actaeon and Cuckold were chosen, he asks.
The Greek myth of Diana and Actaeon can be found within Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The tale recounts the unfortunate fate of a young hunter named Actaeon and his encounter with chaste Diana, goddess of the hunt. The latter is nude and enjoying a bath in a spring with help from her escort of nymphs when the mortal man unwittingly stumbles upon the scene. The nymphs scream in surprise and attempt to cover Diana, who, in a fit of embarrassed fury, splashes water upon Actaeon. He is transformed into a deer with a dappled hide and long antlers, robbed of his ability to speak, and thereafter promptly flees in fear. It is not long, however, before his fellow hunters and his own hounds track him down and kill him, failing to recognize their friend. [Taken from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Trans. A.D. Melville, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Wikipedia]
Continuing St Helena’s links to Shakespeare, the bard references the myth in Titus Andronicus.
The first recorded use of the name Diana is attributed to Major General A Beatson in his 1816 ‘Geological Plan and Elevation of Saint Helena’. He also uses the term Cuckold’s Point but does not show it on the map. The name Diana for the highest peak appears on Thomas E Fowler’s map of 1863, who also references Actaeon Mount and Cuckhold’s Point.
Other passing links and references include the arrival at St Helena in 1782 of the Royal Navy anti-slavery vessel, HMS Diana. There have also been a series of HMS Actaeon ships in the Royal Navy, and “Cuckold’s Point” features as a location at Nelson’s Dock, in the Royal Navy Dockyard, at Rotherhithe where many ships were then built…
Ultimately, Chris concludes, no reference has been found as to how they came to be named, nor any community or official acceptance of these names until they appear on maps and in writings about the island; there are no records of what ordinary local people called the three highest points before we see the names on a printed map.