Nothing captures the imagination of those passionate about ‘the great outdoors’ more than landscapes of hills. They conjure up images of adventure and challenge, they provide the prospect of stunning viewpoints, and they are the source of the tranquillity and escapism that many of us aspire to in our busy schedules.
Hills are also the stuff of collectors, or ‘baggers’, too. This is because they have a specific summit, of a known and measured height (i.e. places with real numbers!), and for those who like their ‘outdoors’ served with a side helping of facts and tick lists they are the cordon bleu dish on the activity menu. My own first taste of the hills came from reading the adventures of the great mountaineers – Hillary and Tensing on Everest, Edward Whymper on the Matterhorn. Reality set in, though, when I realised that my local hills at the time, on the edge of the Peak District, although ‘proper’ hills and a challenge to walk up, were merely ‘bumps’ on a global scale and were never going to make me a famous mountaineer. So, I looked at what records I could achieve in my own backyard – could I reach the highest point in Staffordshire, my home county?
Then the fascination, challenge and ambiguity of environmental facts and records struck home. The highest point in Staffordshire lies in heather moorland at 519m above sea level on the northernmost county boundary with Derbyshire. It’s a walk of about 1.5km from the nearest minor road near Dane Head, and ‘doable’ for the averagely fit. But while it’s the highest place you can be within Staffordshire, it’s a bit of a disappointment when you get there because it’s not a hilltop or summit – it’s just a point on the south west side of Cheeks Hill, whose actual summit is about 25 metres to the north, a few metres or so higher in altitude and actually over the border in Derbyshire.
So the highest point is not the highest hill in the county. That honour lies with Oliver Hill, about a kilometre to the south and just north of the village of Flash (the highest village in Britain). Oliver Hill is ‘only’ 513m high, but more importantly, the whole hill is in Staffordshire. So, was that the hill I needed to climb?
And then the data nerd’s curve ball appeared. Neither the highest point nor the highest hill is actually the place in Staffordshire that sits highest above its surrounding landscape. The ‘most prominent hill’ is the award given to the hill with the greatest ‘drop’, and in the case of my home county that is ‘The Cloud’, which is on the county’s North-west boundary with Cheshire, about 4km north east of Congleton. You can see The Cloud from a long distance, and although it is only 343m high, it stands proud and prominent at 177m above the valley of the River Dane.
This all means of course that there are three places you need to visit to make any claim of achieving ‘height’ records in Staffordshire. All three are pretty easy to ascend, although Oliver Hill has no public right of way to the ‘top’ unlike the others. But, what’s more, this raised an exciting possibility – I could enjoy ‘places’ and the’ outdoors’ in my own backyard, and I could indulge my fascination with the factual, the quirky, the obscure and the downright interesting without having to ‘bag’ Munros, or follow 4000km rivers. I could do it from home, in my own time and within my own capacities.
And with that realisation, ‘Must Get Out More’ was born. Its about identifying the places with the local records and also finding those local places that hold national (or even world!) records, then putting them on your personal ‘to do’ list.
Are the highest point, the highest hill and the most prominent hill all the same place in your home county?
The Record Locations
Use the Grid References below to locate them on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk
The Highest Point in Staffordshire
519m. A point just SW of Cheeks Hill, 12km north of Leek OS Grid Ref SK025698
The Highest Hill in Staffordshire
513m. Oliver Hill, near Flash, 10km north of Leek. OS Grid Ref SK027675
The Most Prominent Hill in Staffordshire
343m with a drop of 177m The Cloud, 4km ENE of Congleton. OS Grid Ref SJ904637