Saturday, 30 September 2006

Ten big hills

I enjoy travelling. I enjoy hiking. I enjoy biking. And what I really, really like is the sight of a great big hill to climb.

So here are my ten favourites.

1 - Penyghent, in Yorkshire. It's just a few feet short of being officially a mountain but it has everything it needs for me to think of it as one. There's a precipitous climb up the sharp face, and a marvellous yomp down the grassy side. Its silhouette taunts the walker - "Here, you, bet you can't climb me!" I have, twice - and I want to make it three before I'm finished.

2 - The Malvern Hills. Equally split between Herefordshire and Worcestershire, these fine hills stick out of the Severn plain like a dragon's back. The views are tremendous, all the way over to Wales in one direction and the Cotswolds on the other. The medieval poet William Langland begins his poem 'Piers Plowman' with the view from the hills - you really can see the whole world from here, just as he says. And you can walk from end to end in a day. If you're up there on the second weekend in December you'll see me and about sixty other certified lunatics Morris dancing.

3 - the road up to La Mola in Formentera. You start at sea level at end up at about 197m. One long winding road to cycle up, until you can't, and walk up, until you can get back on the bike. My lungs started to burn half way up. My shirt was soaked when I got to the top. But there's a wonderful view of the whole of the rest of the island, laid out below - the rocky promontory of the Cap de Barbaria, and the long, sandy beaches to north and south. And it's great fun going downhill again!

An alternative route, which I adore, is the Cami Roma, or Cami de sa Pujada - a rocky path that leads up the sea cliff. It's steep and direct - none of the winding and indirectness of the road. I sat down for a rest half way and after a couple of minutes the little green and blue lizards that live there lost their fear and started climbing all over me. And there's the best view of all, about two thirds of the way up, with a little bay below and the island spread out beyond.

4 - the path up to O Cebreiro, on the Camino de Santiago. One long, hard, zigzagging climb that seems to take the whole of a day. And it's always raining. But it's a magnificent climb none the less.

5 - Castrojeriz, another waystation on the Camino de Santiago. Rioja and the meseta of Spain are full of these little hills that poke up from a flat plain - and this one is topped by a castle, just the way it should be in a medieval romance. In late September, I watched the sun set behind the hill and light the cornfields up with gold. And I never climbed up to the castle; I didn't need to. Beautiful just to look.

6 - Glastonbury Tor. I ought to hate the Tor; I had to run cross-country up and down it when I was at school. But its outline, with the ruined tower on top, and its position, a unique eminence in the otherwise completely flat landscape of the Somerset Levels, make it unforgettable. I've been up and down it enough times, but my favourite view is from Cadbury Castle, a huge hill fort miles to the south east.

There's a miniature Glastonbury Tor too, for which I have a great affection. Just like the Tor, the Mump at Burrowbridge, to the south, has a ruined chapel to St Michael on top of it.

7 - Elm Hill, Norwich, has to be in here. What happens when you put a little hill together with fine half timbered houses and cobblestones? It's probably the most photographed sight in East Anglia and it deserves to be. Not a serious climb of course - but I did mention cobblestones; just try it on a racing bike!

8 - The Pic Saint-Loup, Languedoc, France, has the same fascinations as Penyghent - but it's bigger, and the local wine is better! It's a marvellous limestone climb and its spiky profile is visible from everywhere around Montpellier and the coast. There's a chapel at the top, apparently. I've only seen it from far off - on the TGV down to Montpellier and Narbonne, or walking in the Herault - but it's telling me the same thing as Penyghent; I've got to climb it some time!

9 - Vezelay. The whole of this town is built on a ridge, visible from the vineyards and fields below, with the great abbey church at the summit. And in between there's one great street, with old stone buildings on both sides, curving up to the magnificent church.

10 - Shippea Hill. Reached on the railway line between Norwich and Peterborough, this hill has to be seen to be believed. Some intrepid explorer has tackled it and given us this interesting account and pictures of the enormous hill. And once you've seen the picture you'll know why it's one of my favourites!

Now I have one exclusion that I'm really not happy about. I've left out the Mont Saint-Michel and it really is a hill, and one of my favourites. But I expect I'll be doing ten top islands at some point, and it really wouldn't be fair to give it a chance in both categories...


  1. Hi,

    Just writting to ask if you can add a link to my site from your blog.


  2. Leslie, you've just added a link by posting! So I( don't need to do anything at all.

    But I've visited your site (yes, I know, it took me two months to get round to it) and very much enjoyed it. Highly recommended to anyone who has done the Camino, or is thinking about it, or just wants to read about it.

  3. Want to start your private office arms race right now?

    I just got my own USB rocket launcher :-) Awsome thing.

    Plug into your computer and you got a remote controlled office missile launcher with 360 degrees horizontal and 45 degree vertival rotation with a range of more than 6 meters - which gives you a coverage of 113 square meters round your workplace.
    You can get the gadget here:

    Check out the video they have on the page.


    Marko Fando