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Climbing the Kents, England's 1000-Foot Hills Interview

© Sue Bell

After nine years of research, keen hillwalker Jeff Kent has compiled the first complete list of England's highest hills – all 3805 of them standing between 1000 and 1999.99 feet high in old money. These summits are listed in his book England's 1000-Foot Peaks.

Jeff Kent on Caer Caradoc Hill, one of his favourite of all the Kents  © Sue Bell
Jeff Kent on Caer Caradoc Hill, one of his favourite of all the Kents
© Sue Bell

Jeff has climbed 765 of them to date, including the 621 listed in Central England, but, aged 70, he doesn't believe he will live to surmount all 3805.

"Does anyone fancy taking up the challenge?" he asks.

The original spark that kindled Jeff's monumental research task lay in the Munros, Corbetts and Grahams, the Scottish hills he first fell in love with on family holidays as a youth.

England's 1000-Foot Peaks  © Jeff Kent

"There are no peaks that high in Staffordshire, where I live" he says "but a fair amount of land in the north of the county reaches 1000 feet and I became pretty familiar with much of it from January 1963 when I survived a reckless school hike around The Roaches in bitterly cold weather."

"Over time, I built up a series of beautiful walks in the area, especially in and around the Manifold Valley, but by the beginning of this century I needed a new landscape challenge, and started wondering how many 1000-foot peaks there were in the shire. I thought it very unlikely that anyone had ever compiled a list of them, and research proved this to be the case.

"So I decided to produce a list of them myself and to climb all the peaks I discovered. In 2012 I identified a surprising 65 such hills from Ordnance Survey maps, and of course then had to climb them."

In 2014 Jeff repeated the exercise with Cheshire's 46 1000-footers, going on to write books on both the Cheshire and Staffordshire hills. He called them collectively the Kents, in honour of his parents, Cyril and Helen, who fostered his love of the great outdoors.

"Having got the 1000-foot peaks bug, there was no stopping me" Jeff says "so in 2015 and 2016 I identified 197 hills of the magic four-figure height in Shropshire and climbed all of them. In 2017, I turned my attention to Herefordshire's 45, Worcestershire's eight and Gloucestershire's five, and bagged them too. The following year I moved on to the 261 in Derbyshire and by October 2020 had got to the top of all of them, which increased my total number of ascents of such separate peaks in England to 641."

On Bodmin Moor's Rough Tor  © Dan Bailey
On Bodmin Moor's Rough Tor
© Dan Bailey

Jeff was accompanied on almost all his climbs by his partner, walking companion and photographer, Sue Bell.

By 2015, as an extension of his individual counties projects, Jeff decided to take on the huge task of identifying all the 1000-foot hills in England, with the aim of publishing his findings in a single volume, conceived as a logical companion to the already-listed English mountains (2000 feet high and above).

"Over the next two years I discovered huge numbers of peaks and at times the endeavour seemed endless!" he recalls.

"The numbers of pages of text grew until they approached 800 and eventually I realised that his book would need to be divided into six volumes of manageable size, split into five different regions of the country, with a concluding and unifying tome of the Kents overall, the publication of all of which I finally achieved in 2021."

To identify the summits, Jeff used the names of the peaks as they were shown on the 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map, and where these were absent he tried to find them through other sources. However some seemed to be unnamed, and these he named in accordance with significant nearby features.

Pendle  © Daniel Duerden
Pendle
© Daniel Duerden

He has now produced two lists: the Complete Kents, consisting of all England's 3805 highest hills, and the Greater Kents, the 1640 free-standing ones, with a relative height of fifty feet and above.

"After much deliberation I decided that the criteria for the inclusion of hills in the Complete Kents should be that they must be natural features (or those topped by tumuli), be between 1000 and 1999.99 feet high and have a relative height of at least five feet, to ensure that they have summits and to enable the incorporation of named peaks" Jeff says.

"I then concluded that the appropriate qualifying relative height to use for the Greater Kents was 50 feet or 15.24 metres, approximately to conform to that (15 metres) of the well-established Nuttall mountains list."

To compile the complete list of England's 1000-foot peaks, Jeff twice painstakingly scrutinised all the relevant grid squares of the Ordnance Survey's 1:25000 online map, looking for summits with an altitude of between 304.8 metres (1000 feet) and a fraction below 609.6 metres (2000 feet), using the OS Maps website altitude facility to measure their heights both in feet and metres.

Northumberland's wonderful Simonside  © Chris Craggs
Northumberland's wonderful Simonside
© Chris Craggs

"To try to avoid errors, I then checked numerous other sources, especially a series of hill lists available in printed books and online, to try to find any omissions, of which I discovered only a few. Obviously I found all this a colossal task, which took nine years in total to complete."

Although England's highest hills can't compete in size with its 2000 and 3000-foot mountains, most are easier and quicker to climb, and are generally found closer to towns and cities, making them more accessible to more people.

"A fair number of them have impressive shapes, too" he says " and I'd say The Kents are a very attractive alternative to the arduous mountains. I already know of other hill walkers who are bagging them."

Jeff describes his 1000-foot peaks project as "an absolutely fantastic experience, taking me to numerous places which I would never have visited otherwise and encountering many wild animals rarely seen. The production of the lists was extremely hard work, requiring immense determination to complete, but I'm glad that my work has added to the country's pool of knowledge, as England's highest hills weren't known as an entity before."

The Yawning Stone during a magical Staffordshire gritstone sunset.  © davidj
The Yawning Stone during a magical Staffordshire gritstone sunset.
© davidj, Sep 2012

Though small in stature, the Kents aren't always plain sailing, and on the way to his more-than-750 summits to date Jeff has had some fun and games.

"In Staffordshire I climbed the huge Yawning Stone, with the aid of a ladder, only to find when I got to the top that it wasn't the summit of Gradbach Hill after all" he says.

"On a walk to Ossoms Hill, I nonchalantly made notes standing right in front of a bull, without realising it; and I stood petrified whilst being photographed (unnecessarily, as it turned out) on the top of Mow Cop Folly Rocks, with a forty-foot drop immediately below.

"In Cheshire I had to walk between seven bulls with huge horns on the descent from Tegg's Nose, and was forced to negotiate three barbed-wire fences and near-impenetrable undergrowth to conquer Billinge Hill.

"In Shropshire I braved a swarm of bees in a nest to stand on the precise summit of Henley Nap; developed exposure on the snow-covered Hope Bowdler massif; almost broke an ankle on Manstone Rock; and had to crawl through an immensely dense plantation to reach the trig point at the summit of Black Hill"

Jeff and Sue have yet to hang up their boots.

"We continue to experience elation, difficulty, disappointment, astonishment and amusement on the 1000-foot English high hills" he says.


Jeff's Top Ten Kents

1. Chrome Hill, Derbyshire

1419 feet/432m SK070673

Chrome Hill viewed from Hitter Hill  © Mike Hutton
Chrome Hill viewed from Hitter Hill
© Mike Hutton, Jan 2021

A magnificent, jagged, Carboniferous limestone reef knoll, sometimes called 'The Dragon's Back', which has a natural arch just west-northwest of its summit and produces a double sunset on and around the summer solstice visible from Glutton Bridge. It's relatively easily climbed on a fairly steep concessionary path from adjacent Dowell Dale to the east-southeast.

2. Parkhouse Hill, Derbyshire

1185 feet/361m SK079669

Parkhouse Hill, Peak District  © mudmonkey
Parkhouse Hill, Peak District
© mudmonkey

The smaller, but equally spectacular rocky sister of proximate Chrome Hill on the opposite side of Dowel Dale. It's best, but quite steeply ascended on a footpath up its eastern flank from the B5053 at grid reference SK 084668. The path continues down its narrow and steep western ridge to Dowel Dale, but has become badly eroded and considerable care is needed in tackling its plethora of loose stones.

3. Caer Caradoc Hill, Shropshire

1500 feet/457m SO477953

On the Caer Caradoc ridge  © John Gillham
On the Caer Caradoc ridge
© John Gillham

A striking, isolated hill rising impressively on the eastern side of the Stretton Valley, the summit area of which is part of an ancient hillfort. It can be climbed on several steep footpaths, most conveniently from Church Stretton

4. Bunster Hill, Staffordshire

1079 feet/328m SK142516

An impressive, knobbly, irregularly-shaped reef knoll, which rises very steeply from Dove Dale and the Manifold Valley and the summit of which is on the top of a prehistoric bowl barrow. The simplest and shortest, though steep, ascent is from the village of Ilam at its foot, straight up its southern ridge, from the minor road at grid reference SK136509.

5. Shutlingsloe, Cheshire

1652 feet/503m SJ976695

Shutlingsloe  © Jeff Kent
Shutlingsloe
© Jeff Kent

A splendid, very distinctive peak, known as 'the Matterhorn of Cheshire' especially because of its anvil-shaped summit ridge. It's best approached on an increasingly steep path from the beautiful Clough Valley to the south-southeast at grid reference SJ982686.

6. Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire

1012 feet/308m NZ579125

A remarkable, isolated, short escarpment, ending abruptly at rocky cliffs at the top of its scarp slope. There are several steep paths to its summit, including the Cleveland Way from the east, but the shortest is from Roseberry Lane, off the A173, to the west-northwest.

7. Rough Tor, Cornwall

1286 feet/392m SX145808

Rough Tor is well named  © Jeff Kent
Rough Tor is well named
© Jeff Kent

A short, ragged, rocky ridge, with amazing pillowed tors on and around its summit area and numerous prehistoric and medieval remains lying on its slopes. It's most commonly and easily climbed from the car park at the near end of Roughtor Road, to the north-northwest.

8. Simonside, Northumberland

1400 feet/426m NZ024987

Simonside Heather Northumberland  © davii
Simonside Heather Northumberland
© davii, Sep 2015

An unusual rectangular-shaped peak, with a craggy northern and western edge, which gives its name to a range of hills containing dazzling displays of heather. Its summit is a Bronze Age round cairn and it's best accessed from a car park on a minor road to the east, at grid reference NZ053987.

9. Pendle Hill, Lancashire

1823 feet/555m SD804414

Pendle Hill from Witches Quarry  © Lankyman
Pendle Hill from Witches Quarry
© Lankyman, Jun 2010

An isolated, mini-mountain of immense bulk, which is a notable landmark of mid-Lancashire. Its name means 'Hill Hill Hill' and is recalled by the famous 1612 Pendle Witch Trials of eleven local people. There are several (steep or very steep) paths to its summit at a trig point, the most obvious being the Pendle Way from the village of Barley.

10. Brent Tor, Devon

1083 feet/330m SX470804

This dramatic, isolated, rocky, basalt hill is topped by Brentor Church. It's most simply and easily climbed on a short path/track from a car park off a minor road at grid reference SX468805.



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