The hills of Sheffield. Whether you find them arduous or charming, they are undeniably integral to this city. “Everyone is so two-dimensional in flat towns,” as my house mate Tom, a Sheffield native, puts it.

The hills can be useful when getting around. Lost in Walkley? If you go up, most likely you’ll eventually hit South Road. Go down and you’ll probably hit Langsett/Infirmary Road or the expansive Ponderosa Park. The hills also provide the perfect excuse for avoiding sport – daily trips by foot or bike are probably equivalent to a cardiovascular workout in this city – and some serious fun when it snows.

Beyond this, these three-dimensional landforms generally slide into the background, another quirk of an already eccentric personality. But when you live on the side of one, or have to navigate a beast like Jenkin Road every day, hills become something you think about a lot. One symptom of this is hill pride. Instead of being a source of angst, the hill is converted into something special: “the steepest in Sheffield”. Judging by the Internet (yes I know, but bear with me here), this is a condition enjoyed by many vociferous citizens from all over. More than 600 messages have been posted on the topic at sheffieldforum.co.uk. What follows is an attempt to get to the bottom – or the top – of this issue and provide a roughshod guide for exploration.

We’ll travel clockwise, stopping to admire Hagg Hill, Blake Street, Jenkin Road, Myrtle Road and Kent Road. Why these five segments of tarmac in particular? Well, they were voted on at Sheffield Forum, and they form a pleasing arc around the city centre. Enough questions. Let’s go!

Our first stop is Hagg Hill, the only rural contender, located three miles west of the centre. This involves quite a climb in itself, from 90m above sea level at Barker’s Pool to 160m at the top of the hill. This journey can be a relaxing stroll into the countryside, passing via the sights of Weston Park and the stunning scenes of Bole Hill Park, or it can be an adrenaline-fuelled bike ride with hard climbs up Northumberland and Conduit Roads, alongside fast descents down the treacherous Tinker Lane and undulating Bole Hill Road.

Once at the top (or at the bottom, if you arrived by tram from Malin Bridge), you’ll be greeted by a big, straight descent. It’s like the stomach-churning plunge of a roller-coaster. Test your brakes before doing it on any kind of wheels. The ride takes you 45 metres down, into the depths of Rivelin Valley.

Heading back into town along Langsett Road, you can take a sudden right up through Fox Road play park. Keep your eyes out for Sheffield’s least-known (and probably smallest) public skate-park. Keep going up and eventually you’ll hit a giant green triangle. This is Ruskin Park and it connects directly on to the practically vertical Blake Street. To reward yourself for all that climbing, you can enjoy an ale in the magnificent Blake Hotel (£2 a pint for Farmer’s Blonde) or simply admire the view across central Sheffield.

Next is Jenkin Road, the furthest flung of today’s contenders at a little over three miles from the centre in the opposite direction. It’s in south-east Sheffield, less than a mile’s walk from Meadowhall shopping centre. Bored of being dragged around to buy pointless crap in H&M? It may be time to drag your beloved tormentor to the beast of Jenkin Road. I’d never heard of this place, much less considered going there, before studying steep roads. If you haven’t either, you will not be disappointed. Jenkin Road starts slow and straight, before suddenly transforming into a twisted and horrifying monster of steepness. Marvel at the industrial panorama to the south and tremble at the hair-raising turns below: 85 metres vertical drop over barely 1 km horizontally.

Dare you descend, you’ll be thankful to know the next stop is more mundane. In fact, Myrtle Road will seem eminently horizontal after the mind-warping Jenkin Road. Just one mile due south of the centre in the lush leafy suburbs, I’m surprised this one was even on the list. But it’s all about stamina. It goes on and on, climbing 60 metres vertically over 600 metres horizontally, a 10% climb that beats Jenkin Road when averaged over its total length.

Finally on the list is Kent Road, in a little-known part of Heeley. To get there, take a left off London Road 500m after it forks off from Abbeydale Road at the Red Lion pub, and head up Thirlwell Road. If travelling by bike, you may want to check out Recycle Bikes, which is located at the top. Bearing left and continuing to climb, you’ll eventually hit the roller-coaster drop of Kent Road. It’s only about 100 metres worth of drop, but it is super steep, falling by 20 metres. The ridiculous steepness continues right up until a crossroads, making this another adrenaline rush by bike.

So which one is “the steepest hill in Sheffield”? That depends on how you define “steepness”, and even then, I don’t know for sure. Taking “the highest average gradient over 100 metres of horizontal distance” as my definition, I looked at Ordnance Survey data only to find that all the hills mentioned (except for Myrtle Road) were about the same: a ~20% gradient over their steepest 100 metres. Hagg Hill may just have the edge. Measure it over a 500 metre stretch, however, and the deceptive Myrtle Road would probably win.

There are other contenders, of course, and even a DIY Google Earth analysis – just check out Sheffield forum for those. For the purposes of enjoyment though, steepness is, in reality, in the legs of the beholder. So get out there and see for yourself!

Publicly available data and software can be obtained for this. I’ve packaged these things up in a little 50MB file. All you need to do to read them is install the excellent open source QGIS software and open the file “steephills.qgs” http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15008199/steepesthill.zip

Robin Lovelace.