The Fours - A New English Hill List

by Myrddyn Phillips, Aled Williams and Mark Trengove Dec/2013
This article has been read 3,264 times

The people behind Welsh 400m ticklist The Pedwars / Y Pedwarau have now given England the same treatment, and the result is The Fours - all 300 or so of them. With little peaks the calibre of Catbells, Dufton Pike and Chrome Hill among them, The Fours are big on quality if not altitude. Here the team explains how they went about compiling the list, which can be downloaded for free.

Myrddyn Phillips: List Compiler


he underfoot conditions on the Pennine moors can sometimes be a wet sponge-like trudge, and on one particular day earlier this year the rain and wind had turned the upper slopes of Meldon Hill into an unwelcoming landscape of bleakness. However, we were there for a reason. Mark, a good hill-walking friend of mine and the editor of Europeaklist, a website that specialises in the listing of European hills and mountains, was quickly approaching the completion of the English Hewitts. We had also hoped to film an intro video to a new listing of Welsh 400m hills, known as Y Pedwarau / The Pedwars, that was nearing publication. On our descent we sought shelter from the worsening weather in a forlorn barn, and here we approached the subject of an equivalent listing of English 400m hills.  I’m not too sure if it was the rush to get back to the welcome solace of the car at Cow Green Reservoir, but I was easily tempted by the prospect of this new English list that we had already named The Fours.  Little did I know that it would take over six months' work by all involved until The Fours was ready to publish.

Pam on Chrome Hill, 171 kb
Pam on Chrome Hill
© bryan mitchell, Jan 2013

Also present on that wet trudge up Meldon Hill was Aled Williams, who I’d been working with for a number of years on Welsh upland place-name research. Aled had done a tremendous amount of work on Y Pedwarau and was enthused to research the names of Celtic origin found in the Shropshire border-lands and in the south-west of England too, where many of The Fours are found. With me compiling the list, Aled assessing many of the names for appropriate use and composition, and Mark as both publisher and editor, we set about the task.

"All the major ranges are represented, from The Cheviots to Bodmin Moor"

Over the last thirteen years or so I have compiled many hill lists, the majority of them being of hills in Wales. I know the higher Welsh hills intimately having walked upon them many times. However, I cannot lay the same claim toward the English hills, and because of this I felt I was at a disadvantage, as having actual knowledge of the land that is portrayed on a map can help in assessing the numerical qualification of each hill when hill-list compiling.

The qualification used to separate one hill from another is a minimum of 30m of drop; also referred to as ‘re-ascent’ or ‘prominence’. This is the vertical height gain from the col to the summit. This prominence qualification matched that used in the equivalent Welsh list, as well as that used in other established lists such as the English Hewitts (2000ft minimum height) and the English Deweys (500m minimum height). 

When compiling Y Pedwarau we had realised that these 400m hills form the lower tier of the Welsh uplands, and this is also true for The Fours.  Therefore, anyone contemplating visiting all the upland hills of England will want to visit these 400m hills and join them up with their higher neighbours. A full completion of these three listings would be a very considerable undertaking, but would give an intimate knowledge of all the upland areas of England.

Rough Tor on Bodmin Moor, 132 kb
Rough Tor on Bodmin Moor
© Marc Elliott

We’d already decided upon the self-explanatory title of The Fours as it lists the 400m hills of England and compliments the translated version of its sister volume Y Pedwarau. The choice of title was easy, but the thought of scrutinising so many maps of a country that I did not know so well was somewhat daunting. As the published booklet would list the hills from north to south, I began by studying the Cheviot hills. It took time to develop a rigorous routine, but once a system was set in place where each and every ring contour between 390m – 499m was checked, I soon realised that, although the prospect of listing all these Fours was indeed daunting, it was a task that was achievable. However, I still couldn’t predict how long it would take. The entire list proved quite an undertaking to compile, as there are 296 hills in the main list, with another 225 hills in three sub-lists.  With over 520 hills listed, this is the first comprehensive listing to English 400 hills that take in accompanying sub-hills.

"Studying these maps was like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together, and although the whole process was incredibly laborious it was also very fulfilling"

Nowadays online mapping provides a wealth of Ordnance Survey height details, from some of the early 1:2,500 and 1:10,560 maps, through to the Popular and Seventh Series One-Inch maps, the Historical 1:25,000 maps and right up to the latest large-scale digital maps. All were looked at and checked, with the older maps proving invaluable as they give many heights that were attained via levelling, which is a process more accurate than photogrammetry - responsible for the beige coloured spot heights on current Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps. However, the map that proved the most valuable to study was the latest large-scale digital map where many spot heights are shown that do not appear on any other map. Many times the study of these maps was like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together, and although the whole process was incredibly laborious, it was also very fulfilling.  The accuracy of the list is also enhanced from the surveys conducted for absolute height by G&J Surveys [for more on them, see UKH news here Ed]. As a member of this surveying team I knew that the differential GPS equipment used is the best of its kind for height readings.

Dawn lights up Catbells and Skiddaw, 96 kb
Dawn lights up Catbells and Skiddaw
© Tom McNally

Although not knowing the land of The Fours intimately, I had visited some of the hills. Many of them can be excellent walks on their own, such as the ruggedness of The Tower (SK141914) and the shapely profile of Chrome Hill in the Peak District. Many of the The Fours can be combined with higher neighbouring peaks in extended ridge walks, such as over the North York Moors, Malvern Hills and Exmoor. All the major hill ranges in England are represented in The Fours, from the Cheviot hills and North York Moors in the north of England, down through the spine of the country taking in the Pennines, Lakes, Dales and Peak to the less frequented areas of the Shropshire uplands and lastly to Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor in the south-west.

One aspect of The Fours listing that is unique is the degree of place-name research that was conducted for many of the hill names. This compliments the work done for its sister publication Y Pedwarau. This research was conducted by Aled Williams, and as I made progress down through England to the border areas of Shropshire I sent the list to Aled for him to assess names for appropriate use and composition.

Linghaw 498.8m (its been surveyed!), in the Howgills, 99 kb
Linghaw 498.8m (its been surveyed!), in the Howgills
© Mark Trengove

Aled Williams: Hill-Name Research

During the first half of 2013, I began work on analysing and compiling hill names for what would become Y Pedwarau.  I had been in collaboration with Myrddyn for a number of years, working on a project to record and document upland place-names in Wales. To date, we have spoken to over 700 people who possess at least some intimate knowledge of an upland region. This research has taken me to all corners of Wales and, most significantly for the focus of this article, to some of the English border counties. It is hoped that the bulk of this work can be published in the future.

As my research focuses on the Welsh uplands, my role in the production of The Fours was restricted to only certain areas of England, where names of a Celtic origin are to be found. Subsequent to the publication of Y Pedwarau, I began to contact local people in Shropshire in an attempt to discover names for hills that were nameless on OS maps, or to confirm the status of names where map placement seemed dubious. Examples of names recorded in The Fours’as a result of this research are: The Cold Piece (SO 338 996), Brow Hill (SO 363 956) and Bent Hill, which is an alternative local name for Heath Mynd (SO 335 940).  Some interesting composition variations were also encountered such as Cefn y Cwnthly for a hill recorded on the current OS maps as Cefn Gunthly (SO 331 948). This emphasises the remarkable survival of some Welsh names in England.

Caer Caradoc Hill 459m, Shropshire, 94 kb
Caer Caradoc Hill 459m, Shropshire
© Mark Trengove


"Hill names represent snapshots of human interactions with the hills themselves... and unique to The Fours are names that have never been recorded on any document or map"

The labour involved in sourcing and confirming hill names is considerable, and part of such research can also be achieved through the study of historical documents. For The Fours, each hill that I investigated was analysed thoroughly within the limits of the information available to me. Crucially, names involving a degree of uncertainty in geographical placement were not used, and such hills were listed using the ‘Point (Height)’ notation, following the standard practice employed in European peak listing. This meticulousness was also extended to the hill areas of the south-west of England, where research into old documents such as ‘A Description of the Part of Devonshire Bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy’ by A. E. Bray (1836) confirmed the validity of names such as Swell Tor (SX 559 733).

Hill names represent snapshots of human interactions with the hills themselves, and describe the character or history of an eminence at a certain point in time or within a particular timescale. Such riches are important to treasure and unique to The Fours are names that have never been recorded on any document or map.  We hope that the hill-name details found within The Fours will be of benefit. 

This attention to detail to both the numerical and names aspects of the list was encouraged by our editor, Mark, whose guidance Myrddyn and I followed throughout the publication process. 


Mark Trengove: Publisher and Editor

The listing of Y Pedwarau proved a great success and, although we had decided to compile and publish its sister volume of The Fours on that rather wild day on Meldon Hill, our enthusiasm for the publication was enhanced when people who had downloaded the Welsh list from the website had then asked us to publish the English equivalent.

Chrome Hill 442m, the Peak District mini mountain, 106 kb
Chrome Hill 442m, the Peak District mini mountain
© Mark Trengove

Dufton Pike in the North Pennines, 121 kb
Dufton Pike in the North Pennines
© Dan Bailey


"The Fours comprise wild, little frequented moorland that is mountainous in nature, and the list will take the hill-walker to some beautiful uplands in England"

The publication of The Fours will join a select number of listings of the hills of the British Isles that Europeaklist have published. These include the Majors, the 600m prominence hills of Britain and Ireland, as well as a complimentary series of booklets to the High Hills of the Irish Republic and the High Hills of Wales and of course, the aforementioned Y Pedwarau.

The Europeaklist website has been in existence for over five years and, as the name of the website suggests, I specialise in listings of European mountains and hills. These can be as diverse as hills in The Netherlands [! Ed] or The Baltic States to the alpine mountains of Austria, France and Germany. However, I am always interested in listings of the British hills and, especially, for those that are based on a prominence criterion. The Europeaklist philosophy is to produce quality listings that are free of charge to access and download.   

One aspect of this publication is the comprehensive notes section towards the end of the booklet, where over 330 separate comments can be cross referenced against the respective hill within the list. Many of these notes refer to the height and drop of the hill, where the information came from old maps, or to the surveys conducted by G&J Surveys. Aled’s hill-name research is also represented in the notes section, where sources and alternative names are briefly discussed. 

Interspersed throughout the booklet are photographs of some of the hills listed, and as Europeaklist self-publishes, we can update The Fours with additional information when needed. 

The English 400m hills, The Fours, comprise wild, little frequented moorland that is mountainous in nature, and The Fours list will take the hill-walker to some beautiful uplands in England.


The Fours booklet is available as a free download from the Europeaklist website. A print version is also available.


About the Authors

Myrddyn head shot, 110 kb
Myrddyn Phillips
Myrddyn has over 20 years of hill walking experience from scaling North Africa's highest mountain to trekking in Nepal. He's completed the Welsh 3000ft challenge in under 24 hours and has completed 16 rounds of the Welsh 2000ft mountains, including an ascent of each mountain in each month of the year; still the only known Monthly Calendar Round of Hills ever achieved in the mountains of the British Isles. He has surveyed over 420 hills in Wales, using a basic levelling technique, and is a member of the G&J Surveys team who use differential GPS surveying equipment to determine absolute height and drop of hills, such as the recent elevation of Thack Moor in the Pennines to the dizzying heights of 2000ft mountain status. Myrddyn has a joy for Welsh upland place-name research and is an honorary life member of the Snowdonia Society.

Aled head shot, 73 kb
Aled Williams
Aled is a research scientist by profession and has a PhD in physical chemistry, specialising in photovoltaics and organic electronics. He has over 10 years of hill walking experience and has completed a round of the Welsh 2000ft mountains. He is also interested in natural history and enjoys studying the arctic-alpine flora of the Welsh mountains. As a native Welsh speaker (though now relocated to northern England) Aled is devoted to Welsh upland place name research and is currently in the process of writing a book on the subject, along with Pedwars author Myrddyn Phillips. It's a mammoth undertaking.

Mark head shot, 66 kb
Mark Trengove
Mark is a civil servant specialising in tax. Born near London, he has made Wales his home for the last fifteen years. He began hill-walking quite late in life (aged 39), and has now been heading for the hills for the last sixteen years. Apart from his beloved Wales, he heads when he can to the Scottish Highlands, Southern Uplands, Lake District and Pennines. A member of the Marilyn Hall of Fame, Mark is also the first known person to complete the Welsh Hewitts, Sub-Hewitts, Marilyns and Sub-Marilyns on the same day. To date Mark has only climbed 69 Pedwars, but aims to increase that total now the list has been published on his site Europeaklist. Apart from hillwalking and listing, Mark is a keen genealogist and enthusiast for music of the Baroque and Classical Periods.

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