Reaching the highest point always seems to be an ambition for many people. If you get to the ‘top’, whether that’s the highest mountains in the UK, the highest hill in your county (‘the county top”) or just the summit of a local hill, it’s a great sense of achievement. In comparison, low points get a poor press – who brags about reaching the lowest place, unless it’s a world-famous place like the Dead Sea in Israel? Yet these low points are ‘record locations’ just like the high points, and they are not necessarily any easier to reach than the peaks. Even geography ‘buffs’ who seem to know everything struggle with this one. They might know the highest point in the county but unless it’s at sea level they probably can’t name the lowest point.
We’re talking about points on the surface, of course. Going down mines, or potholing, or even going through road or rail tunnels can get you lower still, but we’re not looking at that here. The official lowest point in the UK is at Holme Fen, near Holme, which is 7km south of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, where Holme Fen National Nature Reserve is 3m below sea level. If it wasn’t for the human-made drainage systems of the Fens, which date back two centuries, it would actually be below the sea today.
For most inland counties of the UK, their lowest point is on the banks of one of the rivers where it leaves the county. In Warwickshire, for example, it is where the River Avon flows south westwards into Worcestershire (on its way to the River Severn at Tewkesbury) that the low point of 25m is found. This lies on the west bank of the river at Abbot’s Salford, 3km south west of Bidford-on-Avon. You can view it across the river by following the Shakespeare’s Avon Way south for 1.5km from the village of Cleeve Prior.
Now, you’d guess that finding the lowest point in coastal counties is pretty easy, as it is anywhere along the coastline at sea level. Altitudes in Great Britain are measured relative to what’s called Ordnance Datum (OD), which was the mean sea level (MSL) at Newlyn in Cornwall as measured between 1912 and 1921. That’s fine, but we all know that sea level changes continuously with the tides each day, so the actual lowest point in a coastal county varies minute by minute! Take Cheshire, for example. You can stand at sea level on the beach in many places, for example at Parkgate 15km west of Ellesmere Port, and if you look at the local tide tables you can find out when it’s going to be lowest each day. But if you want to be at the lowest low point for many years go there at low tide on 22nd March 2019, which is the lowest tide this side of 2026.
And what about London? Greater London isn’t strictly a coastal county as it lies on the River Thames, but the river is of course tidal. The lowest point in Greater London is at Rainham Marshes, 2km south of Rainham in the Borough of Havering, and you can join the Thames Path from the car park there off Coldharbour Lane. But if you want to see the lowest low point in Greater London then you’ll need to visit on 22 February 2019, 12 March 2020 or 12 March 2024, which are the lowest Spring tides between now and 2026.
So where is the lowest point in your county?
The Record Locations
Use the Grid References below to locate them on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk
The Lowest Point in the UK
-3m Holme Fen, Holme, 7km S of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire TL20608870
The Lowest Point in Warwickshire
25m West bank of River Avon at Abbot’s Salford, 3km SW of Bidford-on-Avon SP06734838
The Lowest Point in Cheshire
Sea level e.g. Parkgate, on the N bank of the Dee Estuary, 2km NW of Neston SJ27307900
The Lowest Point in Greater London
Sea level e.g. North bank of the River Thames at Rainham Marshes, Rainham TQ51608000
The MustGetOutMore Question !
Where is the deepest place underground (measured from sea level) that you can reach on the transport network in the UK?
(answer next time)