Probus hears about an unusual hobby by David Rawden

Probus Club of Basingstoke member David Rawden is a retired chemistry teacher who also had an interest in geography. He set a mini quiz before embarking on his story.

Firstly, to test your knowledge of British geography based upon his exploration of Great Britain that has taken him to the four “corners” of the country.
Can you name the most northerly, easterly, westerly and southerly points of mainland Britain?

Answers can be found at the end of this report.

Some people collect items as a hobby: stamps, books, antiques and so forth. David collected hills. They don’t take up room in the house and they don’t need dusting. After ascending all the Wainwright listed Lake District Fells he turned his attention to the Pennines and county tops. He visited the highest point of all the English counties which gave him the Heineken experience – he reached those parts of the country that people would not normally reach.

Dunkery Top, highest point of Somerset. Presented to the National Trust in 1935

The highest top is Scarfell Pike at 3209 feet situated in the Cumbrian mountains; the lowest is in Norfolk, Beacon Hill at 345 feet found just west of Cromer. Most tops are surmounted by a trig point or cairn so that you know you have succeeded. However, this does not happen in most eastern counties or those near to London. On one occasion he wandered through Pavis Wood near Tring trying to decide which hump was the highest point of Hertfordshire.

Summit of Snaefell, the highest point (2063 feet) of the Isle of Man

There is limited access to two tops in military training areas: Mickle Fell in County Durham and High Wilhays in Devon and its near neighbour Yes Tor. Both are on Dartmoor and are the only mountains (hills above 2000 feet) in England south of the Peak District.

Proper walking gear is essential to reach the majority of tops. However, there are a number of tops fairly near Hampshire which can be accessed by a simple walk from a car park. One of these is Leith Hill not far from Dorking in Surrey and another is Whitehorse Hill which can be found west of Wantage in Oxfordshire. Easiest of all is Ditchling Beacon, not far from Lewes in East Sussex. If you can find it amongst a myriad of unsignposted roads, there is a large pleasant summit area at Black Down, in West Sussex, south of Haslemere (Surrey). Walbury Hill in Berkshire, near Combe to the south west of Newbury, can easily be reached from the cark park at Inkpen Beacon. Continuing east along the Wayfarer’s Walk brings you to Pilot Hill, the highest point of Hampshire, situated just west of Highclere.

Further afield and needing more walking effort are the tops of Dorset, Lewesdown Hill near Beaminster, and in Wiltshire, Milk Hill near Alton Barnes and west of Pewsey.

Perhaps when we come out of lockdown some of the more active readers might like to visit a few of the local tops. They will be rewarded with a splendid view.

Answers to the quiz:

Most northerly: Dunnet Head. NOT John O’Groats, which is about 10 miles to the east.

Most easterly: Lowestoft Ness, Suffolk. A splendid ground marker (geoscope) denotes the spot. Distances marked show that, for a crow, Amsterdam is lot closer than Cardiff or Newcastle.

Most westerly: Point of Ardnamurchan. It can be reached by crossing Loch Linnhe by the Corran Ferry (SW of Fort William in the Western Highlands) then heading west with a short stop in Strontian – the only place in Britain with an element (strontium) named after it.

Most southerly: Lizard Point, Cornwall. NOT Land’s End which is the most westerly point of mainland England.

If you correctly answer this quiz it proves that your GCE “O” level in Geography has not been wasted.