Happy birthday: here’s a mountain to climb

Norway considers rare gift to mark Finland’s centenary

"Great things are done when men and mountains meet." – William Blake

As birthday presents go, mountains are a rare gift. For one thing, for most of us, they are difficult to come by. For another, impossible to wrap. And that most famous of gestures, Queen Victoria’s present of Kilimanjaro to her nephew, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, simply did not happen, contrary to myth.

But if you have more than 1,000 peaks over 1,500 metres high, sparing one for a neighbour could be a nice gesture. That's what Norway is set to do next year for Finland – or is thinking seriously about, according to prime minister Erna Solberg – to mark the 100th anniversary of the latter's independence. Moving the border by just 150 metres to the north and 200 metres to the east would give Finland its new peak, while Norway would sacrifice just 0.015sq km.

Hálditšohkka, part of a far larger fell known as Halti, more than 320km (200 miles) inside the Arctic Circle and close to the point where Finland, Norway and Sweden all meet, ascends to 1,331 metres and would become Finland's highest point. (Mont Blanc at 4,809 metres is the highest in western Europe, while Norway's top peak, Galdhøpiggen, is 2,469 metres high).


“Geophysically speaking, Mount Halti has two peaks, one Finnish and one Norwegian,” Norwegian TV explained to bemused viewers earlier this year. “What is proposed is that Norway gives the Finnish peak to Finland, because it is currently in Norway.”

The friendly gesture is the brainchild of retired geophysicist and government surveyor, Bjørn Geirr Harsson (76), and has gone down very well in both countries, with the only reservations so far coming from the indigenous Sami community whose reindeer roam freely across the border and who argue that the land should belong to neither country.

It’s not a bad idea though, worth emulating . . . how about, as Northern Ireland celebrates the centenary of its official inception in 2021, handing over a couple of fields on the banks of the Boyne?