The United Kingdom is not ‘high country’. Although the highest peaks reach over 1300m above sea level at their summits (that’s over 4000 feet in ‘old money’), and certainly seem pretty high to those who choose to climb them, on a global scale we are very much a low country. The UK ranks only 31st in Europe for its highest point.
Despite the mountains of the north and west of Great Britain, the average height above sea level is only 75m** – and that is the height of the city of Shrewsbury in Shropshire or the town of Callendar in Perthshire. For England alone the average height is of course lower – only 54m, which is the altitude of the city of Derby in the East Midlands. Not surprisingly, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have a higher average altitude than England, with their average height represented by the towns of Denbigh in Denbighshire, north Wales (81m asl (above sea level)); Broughshane in County Antrim, Northern Ireland (64m asl); and Aberfeldy on the River Tay in Perthshire (87m asl). Using these towns and heights as a benchmark, you can discover whether your own home, village or town sits at an altitude that is higher than the average for your own part of the UK.
So where is the highest county in the UK? This might seem a straightforward question, as the highest point of Ben Nevis (1345m or 4411’) (Grid Reference NN16607120) is in the ceremonial county of Inverness-shire. And as Inverness-shire also has significant lengths of coastline, it is not only the highest county but also the county with the greatest vertical extent –that is 1,345m from its lowest to its highest point! Most counties in the UK include a stretch of coastline, so for most of us it is easy to compare our own home county with the record-holding county of Inverness-shire by simply identifying the highest point in the county (or “County Top”). But what about those counties that don’t have a coastline? Is the highest county the one that reaches the absolute greatest height or is it the one whose lowest point is furthest above sea level? Let’s look at a couple of examples.
In England, the county whose lowest point is highest above sea level is the ceremonial Metropolitan County of the West Midlands, which includes the cities of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. The lowest point in the West Midlands County is 64m above sea level at Stonebridge Meadows, just outside Coventry (Grid Reference SP34607560), and that is higher than any other county in England. Although it may be the highest county in terms of its minimum height, though, the West Midlands is not especially high at its highest point. Its County Top is only 271m asl, at Turners Hill, Oldbury, in the Borough of Sandwell (Grid Reference SO96708870), and that means the county is only 207m in altitude between its lowest and highest points – Inverness-shire is over six times as high!
In Scotland the highest county as measured by its minimum height above sea level is the ceremonial (and historic) county of Peeblesshire, now part of the Scottish Borders Council district of southern Scotland. Peeblesshire’s highest point is 840m at the summit of Broad Law (Grid Reference NT14602350), but its lowest point is 120m asl at Thornielee on the River Tweed 5km west of Galashiels (Grid Reference NT41993626). So b this lowest altitude measure Peeblesshire is actually 12om higher than Inverness-shire.
For those who live in the lowest lying parts of the country, we might also ask the question about which county is the ‘flattest’ in the UK i.e. which has the smallest vertical difference between its highest and lowest points. Historically this was the county of Huntingdonshire (part of the county of Cambridgeshire since 1974) in the Fens of East Anglia, with a height difference of only 84m from its lowest point 2.5m lower than sea level at Holme Fen near Peterborough (Grid Reference TL20608870) to its County Top at Three Shire Point (aka Boring Field !) at a height of 81m asl (Grid Reference TL04907120). Today, though, it is the county of Norfolk, also in East Anglia, which can lay claim to being the UK’s ‘flattest county’, for Norfolk stretches from sea level along its extensive coastline to a height of only 103m at Beacon Hill near to Sheringham. So nowhere in Norfolk is as high as the lowest point in Peeblesshire!
So ……. what are the highest and lowest counties in the UK???
(** The altitude figures used here are from www.dateandtime.info, which derives them from the Global Digital Elevation Model GTOPO30)
The Must Get Out More Question !
Where is the smallest church in the UK, and how large (or small!) is it?
The Answer to the Last Question
Which is the highest offshore island in the UK (i.e. not on the mainland of Great Britain or Ireland) ?
The highest offshore island in the UK is the Island of Mull, lying in the Inner Hebrides just off the west coast of Scotland, in the ceremonial count of Argyll and Bute. Its highest point is Ben More, which reaches 966m and is the 7th tallest mountain in the British Isles (Grid Reference NM52573307).
The Record Locations
You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk