Some of the most special landscapes and views in the British Isles are marked by the craggy features of a cliff face. Most of the coastlines we visit for holidays in the UK, especially in the north and western areas, have cliffs – some provide a wonderful backdrop to time on the beach but some act as guardians of the shoreline, with access only for the most intrepid. Two thirds of the 14321km coastline of Great Britain consists of cliffs, and cliffs are part of our sense of the UK as an island nation – the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs in East Sussex (see image), for example, are amongst the most iconic coastal views in Britain
Every county in the UK that has a stretch of coastline has its own county record for the highest coastal cliff. Most are accessible to visitors in that they can be viewed either from their base at sea level, or from their summit, or, more frequently, from a nearby safe viewpoint. The highest sea cliffs in England stand on the southern side of the Bristol Channel, marking the northern edge of Exmoor in Devon. Great Hangman, just east of the village of Combe Martin, has a cliff face 244m high below the hill summit which stands at 318m and is also the highest point on the long distance South West Coastal Path (Grid Reference SS60104810). But not all county record sea cliffs are especially high. The highest cliffs in Norfolk (and in East Anglia), for example, are Trimingham Cliffs, 7km east of Cromer, which reach a height of 60m. They are particularly noteworthy because they are formed in soft glacial clays and are subject to substantial coastal erosion each year (Grid Reference TG28933844), so although they are easy to visit they are a potentially very hazardous place.
The highest sea cliffs in the British Isles are, however, almost uniquely inaccessible, as they stand on the remote archipelago of St Kilda. Here the cliffs of Conachair, on Hirta Island, reach 427m high, and are visible only from the sea – and St Kilda lies in the Atlantic some 70km north west of Scotland (Grid Reference NA10000030). So my advice to even the most ardent record ‘bagger’ is not to bother! Even on the mainland of Great Britain, though the highest cliffs are pretty remote – at 281m high, the cliffs at Clo Mor in Sutherland stand 6.5km east of Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point of Scotland (Grid Reference NC32207280). Interestingly their height is just slightly less than the height of The Shard in London, which is Europe’s tallest building at 310m. So even if you can’t visit Clo Mor you can get a sense of their size and majesty by looking at the London skyline.
But cliffs are not uniquely found at the coast. Erosion by rivers or scouring by ancient glaciers or by frost action in upland areas can produce cliffs of impressive heights which are as attractive to climbers (and of course other visitors) as their coastal counterparts. So coastal counties can have record cliffs that are not at the coast, and inland counties all have their own county record cliffs. Wherever you live you can visit your own county record cliff, providing it has public access.
The highest inland cliffs in the UK are found on the slopes of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. Here historic glaciation has produced cliffs reaching 600m in height standing above the valley of Coire Leis on the mountain’s north side (Grid Reference NN16607120). This is just over twice the height of the highest sea cliffs at Clo Mor (i.e. twice the height of The Shard, or the same height as 120 London buses standing on top of each other!) The cliffs are of course only accessible to skilled climbers and mountaineers but they are just about visible some 15km to the south from the A71 at Spean Bridge.
More accessible are some of the highest inland cliffs in England. In Derbyshire, an entirely land-locked county, the cliffs at High Tor, just south of Matlock Bath, reach 100m in height where the River Derwent has cut its gorge through the limestone plateaux of the Peak District (Grid Reference SK29705890). In Greater Manchester County, the cliff face at Great Dove Stone Rocks, just east of the Dove Stones Reservoir, 4km east of Greenfield in Oldham Metropolitan Borough, is c25m high (Grid Reference SE02500390). And in Shropshire the highest cliff is High Rock (40m), adjacent to the A442 road just north of Bridgnorth. The sandstone cliffs here have been formed by the nearby River Severn eroding its valley downwards over the millennia. (Grid Reference SO72309400). Not surprisingly, all of these inland cliffs are very popular sites with climbers and walkers.
So, take a look on the maps of your own local area. If you are lucky enough to live in a coastal county you should be able to identify the county record height sea cliffs – but wherever you live you may be able to find the highest cliffs in your county, whether they are at the coast or not.
The Must Get Out More Question !
Where is the oldest tree in the United Kingdom, and how old is it estimated to be?
The Answer to the Last Question
The Greenwich Meridian marks the line from which all longitudes are measured on the Earth’s surface. It is officially “0 degrees”. Which counties have the northernmost and southernmost land points of the Greenwich Meridian in the UK?
The “Greenwich Meridian” is most visited at the Greenwich Observatory in south London. The line runs north-south through Greenwich though. To the north it eventually reaches the coast at Sand-Le-Mere near Tunstall, north of Withernsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire – and this is actually its last landfall before it reaches the North Pole (Grid Reference TA31803110). To the south the line heads through south London and on into Sussex, where it leaves the British Isles at Peacehaven, just east of Brighton in East Sussex. A monument marks this southernmost point at Peacehaven (Grid Reference TQ41000070).
The Record Locations
You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk