• Laura Purkess

Cleeve Hill, Gloucestershire

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Location: Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

Nearest town: Cheltenham

Peak: 330 metres above sea level

Rank: 18/48

Difficulty: ★★

Date climbed: 20 August 2020

While it houses less than one million* permanent residents, the largely rural county of Gloucestershire is renowned worldwide for the Cotswolds, a collection of very cute olde-world villages that attract nearly 40 million tourists each year (pre-Covid), the Forest of Dean, where Hermione takes Harry to evade the death eaters in The Deathly Hallows, and the river Severn - the UK's longest river (220 miles!).

Over a quarter of the county's residents live in the cathedral city of Gloucester and neighbouring Cheltenham (posh town with famous racecourse), both of which lie near the foot of the county's high point, Cleeve Hill, and can be viewed from the top.

Looking west across the River Severn from the summit, you can make out hills on the horizon which are actually in Wales! To the north-west, you can make out the distinctive ridge line of the Malvern Hills including Worcestershire's high point, Worcestershire Beacon. Gloucestershire's became the second high point from which we could see The Beacon - the other being Warwickshire's Ebrington Hill.

Turning north back into the heart of the Cotswolds, you can make out another settlement, the picturesque town of Winchcombe. Way back in Anglo-Saxon times, Winchcombe (photos below) was a major settlement in the Kingdom of Mercia. Fun fact: the ancient capital of Mercia was Tamworth, which is where I hail from. Spoiler: Tamworth looks nothing like this:

Winchcombe is not only gorgeous, but is also a walker's paradise with seven long-distance footpaths running straight through the middle. One of these, The Cotswold Way, is a National Trail that you can actually follow all the way to the summit of Cleeve Hill. However, on our visit, we decided to jump in the car and drive to a grassy verge closer to the hill to reduce both the distance and ascent required to reach the top.

Cleeve Hill is particularly prominent above the fertile valley where Gloucester, Cheltenham and the river Severn reside because it sits atop a limestone escarpment, commonly known as the Cotswold Edge.

However, the summit of the hill is covered by Cleeve Common, a 1,120 acre Site of Special Scientific Interest. Like most commons, it provides a large, flat expanse that makes for easy walking and comfortable picnic-ing, but in this case you also get the bonus of 360-degree views over several neighbouring counties!

Trying to determine the difficulty of this high point walk proved contentious. Given its height, I thought it might be worth 3 stars, but Kieran was not swayed. This resulted in Kieran rambling out his defence over several paragraphs that I will just copy and paste below. But in summary on Cleeve Hill: Many sheep. Got stung by a nettle. Very windy. Great views.

*Courtesy of Kieran*

Cleeve Hill was our tenth county high point and with 48 ceremonial counties in total, this meant that with it we had surpassed the 20% completed mark in our quest to climb them all.

At 330 metres above sea-level, Gloucestershire’s summit was the second highest we had climbed, with Worcestershire’s mighty Worcester Beacon, at 425m, far and away our highest high point.

We gave Worcester Beacon a 3-star difficulty ranking. It was a strenuous climb up to the summit from Great Malvern, especially on a boiling hot Easter Sunday in 2019. However, we were acutely aware that it was our first high point, and whilst challenging, we looked at other summits further up the list, such as Scafell Pike and Black Mountain, and realised we should hold back on those top-tier difficulty rankings for when we tackled them.

We then discovered that some high points required no strenuous activity at all. You can drive to the ‘summit’ of a surprising number: Nottinghamshire’s true high point at Newtonwood Lane, Greater London’s side of Betsom’s Hill, Turner’s Hill in The West Midlands & Warwickshire’s Ebrington Hill being the ones we have ticked off already. They were given 1 star.

And so that has left us trying to fit a wide-range of high point summits within the 2-star category. Prior to today, we had given four summits a 2-star ranking. They all required strapping on the comfy trainers, and whilst none were particularly high, the amount of ascending required to reach the summit varied due to respective prominence from the surrounding landscape.

The ascent to Betsom’s Hill from the Kent side required climbing the North Downs escarpment and Leicestershire’s Bardon Hill rises up out of a remarkably flat landscape. Whereas, Cold Overton Park in Rutland and Arbury Hill in Northamptonshire were less dramatic, but required navigating country lanes and clambering over stiles and across fields to reach the summit.

So under this system what ranking does Cleeve Hill get? Well, parking in the main car park on the northern end of the Common as we did, means you’re already 250 metres above sea level. The route described above requires less than 100 metres of ascent and a 5km there-and-back amble across the Common to reach the high point plateau.

So, we’ve given it 2 stars.

These rankings are, after all, purely subjective and reflective of the route that we took on the day. Were you to start off in nearby Cheltenham and climb the western escarpment, then this would likely become a 3-star difficulty ranking, rivalling that of nearby Worcester Beacon. And while we’ve avoided a formal ranking of the ‘best’ high points for that very same reason, between you and us, Cleeve Hill came in as one of our absolute favourites.

*(916,202. Source: wonderful Wikipedia)

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