7 things you never expected in Britain’s Hills

Phoebe Smith By Phoebe Smith

Think you’ve seen it all in the great outdoors? Think again. Author and adventurer Phoebe Smith reveals some of the unexpected phenomena that you can find exploring Britain’s best small hills…

1. A double sunset – Chrome Hill, Peak District

Chrome Hill, Peak District

Chrome Hill, Peak District

Chrome Hill is remarkable in many ways. The first is that it used to be a coral reef at the bottom of the ocean, swarmed by fish and marine mammals.

Even more impressive is that it still looks as though it could be thanks to its dramatic craggy profile that hides a wealth of nooks and crannies. Notable further is that access to it for walkers was opened up in the year 2000 thanks to the brilliant Countryside Rights of Way Act (CRoWA).

But its real claim to fame is that a visit here can sometimes result in you seeing a double sunset – that is the sun setting twice in the same place due to the rotation of the earth. It sets on the southwest of the summit first, then re-emerges on the north-eastern slope before setting at the foot of the hill. Extraordinary.

2. Pixies House – Sheeps Tor, Devon

It’s not often that a figment of the imagination makes it onto an official document like an OS map, but look closely at the Explorer (1:25,000) sheet 20 and you’ll see that a home for invisible and mischievous creatures called Piskies (or Pixies) House is clearly marked.

In reality it's a handy cluster of granite fallen in such a way to form a small space that the intrepid can crawl inside, but its presence has been documented since at least 1836.

A word to the wise – if you do go and crawl inside make sure you take a suitable (biodegradable) gift otherwise these crafty residents are said to disturb your sleep…

3. Viking graves – Bow Hill, West Sussex

Viking graves – Bow Hill, West Sussex

Viking graves – Bow Hill, West Sussex. Photo credit: Kevin Merrey

Many write off the South Downs as being too little in terms of hill-walking. But a hike amongst the chalky downs can deliver much more than a pleasant walk.

On the top of diminutive 206m Bow Hill sit a series of four Bronze Age barrows which legend has it houses the remains of Viking leaders who were vanquished by the Chichester locals. Lower down, the flanks are coated with trees – including some of the oldest yews in Britain.

Folklore has it that, at night, the Nordic invaders who died on the slopes haunt the forest, appearing as spectres in the moonlight…

Viking graves – Bow Hill, West Sussex

Viking graves – Bow Hill, West Sussex. Photo credit: Kevin Merrey

4. Wild ponies – Mynydd y Dref, North Wales

Wild ponies – Mynydd y Dref, North Wales

Wild ponies – Mynydd y Dref, North Wales

When it comes to Wales they love their wildlife, but you’d never expect to find it so close to a town.

Conwy – complete with its impressive castle – not only has wonderful be-walled streets to wander around, but also a walk up to the top of the 244m hill straight that goes from the high street. Literally translated as ‘mountain of the town’ it offers incredible views of the estuary and – equally as impressive – the chance to spot the wild Carneddau ponies who call these slopes home.

They are a special breed that belong to no one in particular, though the local community looks after them and allows them to munch on the grass here. Equines and shops side by side – you’ll neigh find a better walk in Wales.

Wild ponies – Mynydd y Dref, North Wales

Wild ponies – Mynydd y Dref, North Wales. Photo credit: Neil Price.

5. Kashmir goats – Great Orme, North Wales

Stroll the headland that spans from the seaside town of Llandudno and you may well be joined by some very unexpected non-Welsh, regal residents. Longhaired, black and white Kashmir goats call these steep cliffs home.

They found there way here in the 19th century when Queen Victoria gifted two to Major General Sir Savage of Mostyn, who decided to take them to live on the Orme due to their ability to live on steep ground easily.

Since 1844, when HRM gifted one to the British Army’s Royal Welsh Regiment they’ve selected a member of this very herd to be a lance corporal – so make sure if you see one you stand to atten-shun!

6. Works of art, Colt Hill, Dumfries and Galloway

It’s rare that you get to combine a meander with some modern art – especially by a sculptor as famous as Andy Goldsworthy. But head to the little-visited peaks around Cairnhead (accessed from the funky village of Moniaive) and you can do exactly that.

There, straddling three hilltops like yawning red rainbows, are the sandstone installations known as Striding Arches. Launched in 2002 the aim was to bring walkers to this often-neglected set of hills. Just under 4m high and stretching 7m in length they are made from local sandstone.

With visual feasts on offer, you’re sure to be far too distracted to notice the ascent.

7. A mythical monster – Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, Highlands

Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, Highlands

Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, Highlands. Photo credit: Neil Price

Rising like a monster above the shores of Loch Ness is the 699m bump known as Meall Fuar-mhonaidh.

With the attractions around the water taking centre stage, many people ignore this little (by Scotland’s standards) hillock opting instead to do a spot of Nessie spotting by boat. However, to get the ultimate view along the entire loch – and surely the best chance of spying the rumoured plesiosaur – this walk is the best way.

Though many don’t believe there really is a sea creature beneath the waves, one things for sure, the panorama you can enjoy atop this mini beast is most certainly not make-believe…

Phoebe Smith is an OS #GetOutside Champion and author of eight books on the outdoors.

Her latest is Britain’s Best Small Hills (Bradt) out now. Available in the OS shop whilst stocks last.

Save £2 on RRP with the discount code: PSGETOUTSIDE

Phoebe Smith book cover: Britain's Bites Small Hills

Phoebe Smith By Phoebe Smith


Phoebe Smith is an extreme sleeper, wild camping adventurer, award-winning travel writer, author, broadcaster and presenter.

You can find out about Phoebe's adventures here.