How many mountains have you climbed? If you’re anything like me, your mountain summit conquests aren’t numerous. There was Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Wales, Cairn Gorm in Scotland (although I started that one quite high up) and Te-taumata-o-Hakitekura (Ben Lomond) in New Zealand. Not a high score and I’m not sure my knees are currently up to increasing it.
But I have climbed plenty of hills.
I grew up on the side of the Malvern Hills and, back in the days when walking was our main mode of transport, I suspect a high percentage of my childhood steps were uphill ones.
Here in South Devon, we have more hills than you would imagine for somewhere so close to the coast. There’s Dartmoor for a start with its tors and valleys (check out my High Willhays nearly mountain walk below). And there’s the South West Coast Path which sounds like it should involve flat strolls along sandy shores but in South Devon has some of its most ascent-gathering sections.
South Devon also has some rather good train lines.
Train lines that can take you to walks at the top of Dartmoor, along cliffs, through wooded valleys and up impressive estuaries. And as well as walks from train stations, we also have plenty of train stations near campsites.
Okay so estuaries don’t always have hills.
But everywhere else down here does!
In fact the UK is covered in interesting hills that haven’t quite made it into the mountain hall of fame. Climbing hills is easier than you think; even if that hill is almost tall enough to almost be a mountain.You don’t need to rush, you don’t need to take the steepest route up.
You don’t even need a car to get there.
Because here in Britain, finding a hill to climb is easy (especially if you hop on a train). And we have a surprising number of big hills that aren’t quite tall enough to be it mountains.
Train travel takes all the driving and parking hassle out of outdoor fun, it’s also much better for the environment you’re visiting than driving to your walk starting point.
It’s time to have your very own nearly-mountain adventure by train.
What’s the difference between a mountain and a hill?
Probably four weeks on the sofa!
But if you’re looking for a proper definition, here in the UK a hill is a summit with over 610 metres of elevation. If that sounds like a strange number, it’s because it’s the equivalent of 2,000 feet. Well it roughly is, give or take a few centimetres.
Mind you, in the world of mountains centimetres matter.
It’s tricky for a hill to turn into a mountain but this does happen, and not just in films. The last hill in England to be re-surveyed and given mountain status was Calf Top in 2016. It didn’t change height but the model used for national height datum (from which heights are measured) did.
Climbing hills doesn’t have to be hard
One person’s hill is another person’s mountain.
Profound eh? I’m not sure if I made that up or read it somewhere but it’s true. In fact, if like me, you’ve been hibernating all winter, you might find your usual hills have turned into mountains.
I blame geology!
Or perhaps the comfort of my armchair and my love of crocheting (which in my case is often just an excuse for sitting down). Whichever it is, I’m here to let you in on a walking location secret.
Hills can be just as much fun as mountains.
We want you to enjoy your train rides as well as your walks.
So we’ve given our favourite four nearly-mountain choices (there are plenty more) as well as a steepness score to let you know the distances from your train station to your summit. Trains may not be very good at gradients but you can be.
Are you ready? Here we go!
Five (nearly mountain) hill summits in England you can reach from a train station
You can climb all of these summits from a mainline train station. Apart from High Willhays and Mam Tor, these are all suggested routes I haven’t yet tried myself (but would love to).
1. Black Combe from Silecroft Station
Summit height: 600 m
Steepness factor: 596 m ascent in 4.98 km (steep)
Whole walk time: 5 plus hours (there and back)
You can’t have a list of nearly-mountain summits without including a Wainright but Black Combe isn’t one of the great man’s most well known hills. At 600 metres above sea level, it falls just 10 metres below mountain height but the climb to the summit is in many ways a proper mountain walk, not least because of the crags that sit below it to the northeast.
Pack some warm clothes and a compass in case the mist falls. But also some binoculars to look across the Irish Sea if it doesn’t.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get back to your train.
2. High Willhays from Okehampton Station
Summit height: 621 m
Steepness factor: 419 m ascent in 7.12 km (steepish)
Whole walk time: 5 plus hours (there and back)
At 621 metres High Willhays is technically a mountain but set in its rolling moorland landscape it really doesn’t feel like one. Devon’s highest point has a remote peace all of its own. Unless the Army are live firing that day that is. You need to check the Dartmoor firing times just in case.
3. Ward’s Piece from Hope (Derbyshire) Station
Summit height: 476 m
Steepness factor: 308 m ascent in 3.85 km (steepish)
Whole walk time: 3 plus hours (there and back)
High above beautiful Edale and at the end of a striking ridge, Ward’s Piece is a section of land at the top of what is also known as Lose Hill Pike. We’ll forgive Mr Ward for suggesting some of his walks weren’t suitable for ladies because it was the 1920s, and he championed access rights and set up one of the very first working-class walking groups in the country. He was given the area of land that became known as Ward’s Piece as recognition of his work but immediately handed it over to the National Trust.
Instead of returning to Hope train station, you could continue west along the ridge to Mam Tor before descending into Edale to find Edale Station.
4. Park Fell from Ribblehead Station
Summit height: 563 m
Steepness factor: 254 m ascent in 2.84 km (a bit steep)
Whole walk time: 2.5 hours (there and back)
As far as walking routes from train stations go, this isn’t the steepest but it does take you 563 metres above sea level.
Ribblehead train station is often visited for its famous viaduct. You can walk underneath Ribblehead Viaduct just up the road from the station but climb Park Fell instead and you’ll be able to look down on the whole valley as well as spy Blea Moor under which the track tunnels.
This big hill is right next to an actual mountain so if you fancy a challenge (with a much bigger steepness factor), why not continue another 6 km along the ridge to summit Ingleborough, one of the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks.
Time to get climbing
I’ve described four train station walks above but there are plenty more hills out there to climb and plenty more train lines to take you there. Choose a small hill and you’re more likely to reach the summit with a smile on your face. Once you’ve done it once, you’ll soon be looking for your next climb.
If you don’t fancy all that uphill walking, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy outdoor adventures by public transport. Check out my adventures by train pages and you’ll find some great ideas. How about catching a train to wild camp on Dartmoor, sea swim along the Riviera Line or walk the (not steep at all) Mawddach Estuary Trail? I can even help you plan your own train adventure.