Moving Mountains?

We can usually be confident that when we set out to visit a local county record location that it will be where we expect it to be! Most of the records don’t change very much over time – the oldest church is unlikely to lose its record status, and the largest lake won’t change much in size from year to year. There are of course some records that can change, though. The county’s tallest tree may fall or a taller one might be ‘discovered’, for example; the ‘highest’ pub might close down so that a different one takes on the title for the county; or a new business might grow to become the biggest employer in the county.

One record we might reasonably expect not to change is the location of the highest point in the county. After all, the hills and mountains that make up the ‘county tops’ have been there in most cases for many millions of years, and despite slow reductions in height due to natural erosion they seem to represent the ultimate in continuity and stability. So, how can we explain the fact that the highest points in some counties have changed in recent times?

One example is the county of Lancashire in north west England which has seen its ‘county top’ move by 41km to the south east and decline in height by 176m. Prior to 1974 the highest point in Lancashire was the famous ‘Old Man of Coniston’, which stands boldly on the west side of Coniston Water in the Lake District (Grid Reference SD27249783). With a height of 803m (2634’) it is one of the high peaks of the Cumbrian Fells, made famous by the writer and walker Alfred Wainwright. Today, though, the highest point in Lancashire is Gragareth (Grid Reference SD68797929). Gragareth stands on the western side of the Pennine Hills 9km east of the town of Kirkby Lonsdale, only 200m from the county boundary between Lancashire and North Yorkshire, and within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Reaching a height of 627m (2060’) it is popular with hill walkers and provides spectacular views westwards towards Morecambe Bay and the Lake District from its summit.

Now, clearly, the mountains haven’t moved – even the fastest movements of plate tectonics only move places by a few millimetres a year! So what has changed of course is the county boundary. In the case of Lancashire the reorganisation of counties in 1974 saw the transfer of significant parts of the north of the county into the ‘new’ county of Cumbria – and with it went the Old Man of Coniston, which changed from being the highest point in Lancashire to being only the 38th highest point in Cumbria. So, Lancashire needed to find a new county top – and that honour fell to Gragareth. Interestingly, prior to the boundary changes in 1974 Gragareth hadn’t even been in Lancashire, for it sat astride the county boundary between the West Riding of Yorkshire and the historic county of Westmorland. When it became part of Lancashire, even though it was a newcomer, it found itself as the highest point within the new county boundaries.

High points are quite at risk from county boundary changes. The reason is that boundaries are often drawn along the tops of hill ranges which represent a ‘natural’ border with the adjacent county. So, many high points sit on or close to the county boundaries and may change their home county with even a small change in the boundary line. As a result there are a number of counties in England, in addition to Lancashire, where the highest point has changed in recent years, and Cheshire, Durham and Oxfordshire are good examples.

Cheshire. The highest point in the historic county of Cheshire was Black Hill (582m/1909’) (Grid Reference SE07820469), 10km south west of Holmfirth in the southern Pennines, but the current county top is Shining Tor (559m/1830’), east of Macclesfield (Grid Reference SJ99407370), Black Hill now sits on the county boundary between Derbyshire and West Yorkshire, and has actually become the highest point in West Yorkshire.

Durham. The historic county of Durham reached its highest point at Burnhope Seat (746m/2447’) (Grid Reference NY78793754), high in the North Pennines west of St. John’s Chapel, but today its county top is Mickle Fell (788m/2585’) (Grid Reference NY80582453) in the Lune Forest, 15km west of Middleton-in-Teesdale. Mickle Fell had previously been the highest point in the North Riding of Yorkshire, but the redrawing of boundaries moved it into Co Durham and raised the county’s highest point by 42m!

Oxfordshire The highest point in Oxfordshire prior to 1974 was Bald Hill (257m/843’) (Grid Reference SU72889577), in the Chiltern Hills east of Watlington close to the boundary with Buckinghamshire. The redrawing of the county boundaries, though, meant that it lost its ‘top’ position to Whitehorse Hill (261m/855’) (Grid Reference SU 30008630), which is 42km west, overlooking the Vale of Whitehorse, near Swindon.

What this means, of course, is that for some counties, reaching the highest point might require two trips – one to the historic ‘county top’ (pre 1974) and one to the highest point in the modern ceremonial county!

 

And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

What is the longest road in Wales?

 

The Answer to the Last Question

Which three English counties have the longest coastlines?

The counties of England with the longest coastlines are

  • Cornwall              1086km
  • Essex                     905km
  • Devon                   819km

 

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

The Heart of the County

Talk about the ‘Heart of Hampshire’ or the ‘Heart of the Cotswolds’ and you invoke an image that captures the landscapes, culture and history of somewhere special and unique, a place or region intuitively recognised and understood. Each of our historical and ceremonial counties has its own such distinctive character and persona. Warwickshire, for example, is quite different in ‘personality’ to Cornwall or Kent, and Aberdeenshire has a very different profile and heritage to Ayrshire or Fife. These differences reflect contrasting histories, landscapes, geology, economy and the influence of key families and individuals throughout their history. But how can we ‘capture’ this ‘place personality’ ? Maybe it is through the nature of the county’s towns, which will have been at the heart of its culture and history, or perhaps it will be through the artists, writers or poets who capture that ‘heart’ in their works – the Lake District, for example, whether in its modern ceremonial county of Cumbria or its historic county of Cumberland, is synonymous with the works of Wordsworth or Beatrix Potter

Another way of getting to the heart of a county, though, is to look at the places that are quite literally at the centre (or heart) of the county. There are two ways of identifying these ‘central places’. One is to find the location that is furthest from any of the county boundaries, so that it is as far from being in another county as it is possible to be. It is likely that such a specific point is not actually in a town or village, so we might look at the settlement which is closest to that point. The second way is to find what is called the ‘centroid’ of the county. This is the point at which a geometric shape identical to the county’s shape would balance precisely. Once again, this is usually a rural location, so we might look at the village, town, suburb or borough that is closest to this point.

So where are these central points, which lie at the heart of the county, in Greater London, for example? The furthest you can get from the boundary of Greater London is on The Embankment, on the north side of the River Thames by the Savoy Pier (Grid Reference TQ30558055). From here it is 16.76km to the edge of Greater London at Worcester Park in south London and at Repton Park near Chigwell in north-east London.  As the county of Greater London is roughly circular in shape the central point calculated as the centroid is very close to the furthest point from the county boundary.  It also lies on The Embankment on the N side of the River Thames, but in this case it is where the road passes under Hungerford Bridge, close to Embankment tube station (Grid Reference TQ 30428032). Both these points are in the London Borough of Westminster which means that it is Westminster that stands at the heart of the city geographically – and it would be easy to argue that The Embankment and Westminster are great locations to capture the character of London.

And what about a more rural ‘shire’ county? The ceremonial county of Cheshire, in the north west of England, is a rural county with a number of significant urban centres. The furthest point from the county boundary is 3km south of the town of Winsford – a point that is 21.7km from the nearest county boundary (Grid Reference SJ65006420). The nearest settlement to this point is the hamlet of School Green, 2km south west of Winsford, which is itself 21.1km from the nearest county boundary (Grid Reference SJ64606490). The centroid of Cheshire is some 5km north west of here, though. The centroid is in farmland close to Brook House, which is 3km NW of Winsford (Grid Reference SJ63506820). Brook House is close to the village of Whitegate, which lies midway between Winsford and Northwich, and is therefore the most central settlement (Grid Reference SJ62906930). The rural character of both School Green and of Whitegate certainly captures the ‘essence’ of the county of Cheshire, and so might be described as typifying the heart of the county.

So where is the heart of your own home county?

 

And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Which three English counties have the longest coastlines?

 

The Answer to the Last Question

Where is the longest road tunnel in the UK?

The longest road tunnel in the UK is the Queensway Tunnel, also known as the Birkenhead Tunnel, which runs under the River Mersey between Liverpool and Birkenhead in Merseyside. Opened in 1934, it is 3,237m long (Grid Reference SJ33328975)

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

Riding High

Reaching the highest points is one of the great rewards of ‘getting out’. Getting to the summit provides a real sense of achievement in itself, of course, through that feeling of hard work rewarded – even if the downward trip to come might be just as challenging as the upward one completed. For most people though, the great prize of reaching the top comes from the potential for distant vistas. The stretching of horizons, the birds eye view of landscapes that are difficult to make sense of except from on high, and the chance to look down upon the world around, are all exciting and affirming experiences at the end of the climb.

But we are not all hill walkers and climbers, and reaching the highest peaks in the UK is well beyond us. The ‘County Tops’, particularly in the lowland counties may be a realisable objective, but even this is not always possible or achievable. So how can we get the reward of height in an easier way? Well, one of the (usually!) easy county extremes that can be achieved by most of us is to travel to the highest road point in the county.

If you live in one of the upland parts of the UK then the highest road will be at a considerable altitude. The highest public road in England is the unclassified road from St John’s Chapel to Langdon Beck at Harthope Moor, in the Pennines of Co Durham, which reaches 629m (Grid Reference NY86273501). In Scotland, driving along the A93 from Braemar to Spittal of Glenshee takes you over the Cairnwell Pass, which at a height of 670m is the highest public road in the UK (Grid Reference NO14157745).The highest road in Wales is the Gospel Pass, an unclassified road in Powys between Hay-on-Wye and Abergavenny, which reaches 549m in height (Grid Reference SO23653525).

But most of us do not live in the upland parts of Britain, so the highest road in our own county will be at a more modest height. The highest road in Warwickshire, for example, is the minor road from Ilmington to Hidcote which reaches ‘only’ 260m at Ebrington Hill, 10km south west of Stratford-on-Avon (Grid Reference SP18724263). In Greater London the highest point you can reach by road is on the A233 Biggin Hill to Westerham road in the North Downs which reaches 245m close to Hawley’s Corner in the Borough of Bromley (Grid Reference TQ43635648).

And which county can lay claim to the lowest highest road? Well that’s Norfolk, where the highest road reaches only 103m –it’s the minor road (Sandy Lane) which runs south from West Runton on the north Norfolk coast and passes close to the highest point on the North Norfolk Ridge (Beacon Hill) about 1km south of the village (Grid Reference TG18594131). But Norfolk has only held that record since 1974 – the highest road in the historic county of Huntingdonshire, which ceased to exist in 1974, is the B645 at Three Shires Stone west of Covington, which reaches only 81m at the county boundary with Northamptonshire (Grid Reference TL04717057).

So where is the highest road in your own county?

Corrections

Whoops! In the last blog we identified St James Church in Louth (Lincolnshire) whose spire is 89.9m tall (Grid Reference TF32668739) as having the highest steeple of any parish church in the UK. We were wrong (it happens!). While this is the tallest Anglican parish church, the tallest parish church overall in the UK is actually the Roman Catholic St. Walburge Church in Preston, Lancashire, whose spire is 94m tall (Grid Reference SD52962985). This is the third highest spire of any church in the UK, after Salisbury and Norwich Cathedrals.

 And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Where is the longest road tunnel in the UK?

 The Answer to the Last Question

Where are the tallest church towers/spires in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

In Scotland the tallest church spire is St.Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh Built in 1874 it is the tallest building in Edinburgh and reaches a height of 90m. (Grid Reference NT24147351). The tallest ‘parish’ church is Barclay Viewforth  Churc h of Scotland church, also in Edinburgh, which reaches a height of 76m (Grid Reference NT24947261).

In Wales the tallest church is Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, which is 59.4m high (Grid Reference ST15587813), while the tallest ‘parish’ church is St.Giles Church in Wrexham, in North Wales, which is 41.1m high (Grid Reference SJ33545012)

In Northern Ireland the tallest church is St.Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast which is 72m tall (Grid Reference NW46282875), while the tallest ‘parish church’ is the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Church in Omagh, Co Tyrone, which reaches 68.6m (Grid Reference NV57903587)

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

Aspiring to Great Heights

One of the most impressive features of the landscape is the distant glimpse of a church tower or spire, outlined against the sky and the horizon. In our urban areas the churches reach high above the roofscape and, despite dating in some cases back to the Middle Ages, compete with some of the most modern office and apartment blocks for the prize of being the tallest building in town. In our rural areas they are the great focus of villages and the agricultural landscape, providing witness to the centuries over which people have worked the land. They are also a great friend to the traveller, for they are easy destinations to head towards and provide a comforting promise of nearby rest and refreshment in the village pub.

Steeplechasing is now mostly associated with National Hunt horse racing, but traditionally it was a term used to describe any form of cross country sporting pursuit. Whether on foot or horseback, the ‘race’ was to be the first to reach the churches whose steeples were visible. So, steeplechasing is still something which can be done today – by car, by walking or by bike. Visiting the tallest churches in our own locality, county or region is an interesting way of exploring local histories and communities. Finding the tallest church towers or spires isn’t always easy, though, as the measured heights aren’t necessarily known or recorded.

So where are the record places in your own locality? In the West Midlands of England, a ‘steeplechase’ across the region’s six ceremonial counties in search of the tallest church towers and steeples would take in the following record places.

Herefordshire. St.Peter’s, Peterchurch has a spire that is 56.7m in height. This rural village sits in the “Golden Valley” of south west Herefordshire, 15km west of Hereford, and the church dates back to Norman times. The original spire was half removed in 1949 for safety reasons, but was replaced in 1972 with a spire built in fibreglass (Grid Reference SO34523854).

Shropshire. St Mary’s, St. Mary’s Place, Shrewsbury was founded before the 13th century. The spire, which is 42m high, was added to the existing West Tower in the late 15th century. The church became redundant in 1987 and is now managed by the Churches Conservation Trust (Grid Reference SJ49251264).

Staffordshire. Staffordshire’s tallest is the 76.8m high central spire of Lichfield Cathedral. The cathedral, dedicated to St Chad, the first Bishop of Mercia, has its origins in 669AD, but the present cathedral was constructed in the years following 1195 AD. The central spire was rebuilt in the late 17th century (Grid Reference SK11500970).

Warwickshire. The county’s tallest spire is at St Gregory’s, Mill Lane, Tredington, 3km north of Shipston-on Stour, and is 64m high. The church dates from the 10th century but is mostly 12th-14th century, while the unusual octagonal spire dates from the 15th century (Grid Reference SP25924357).

West Midlands. The ceremonial county of the West Midlands, which includes the seven metropolitan boroughs of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry, has the tallest spire in the region. The 90m spire of the original Coventry cathedral, built in the 14th century and dedicated to St. Michael, made it the 7th tallest church in the UK. Although the cathedral was destroyed by bombing in 1940, the tower, spire and part of the outer wall remain, sited alongside the modern Coventry Cathedral (Grid Reference SP33607900).

Worcestershire. Worcestershire’s tallest is the 62m tower of Worcester Cathedral. It is the third tower on the cathedral (the first fell down, and the second was taken down for safety reasons!), and was completed in 1374, although the origins of the cathedral are the Worcester Priory on the same site, dating from 680AD (Grid Reference SO85005450)

The tallest churches of the West Midlands are a diverse variety of cathedrals and parish churches, therefore. But where would you have to go to visit the tallest in the UK? Salisbury Cathedral, in Wiltshire has the tallest spire of all at 123m (Grid ReferenceSO14262951), while the tallest parish church is St James Church in Louth (Lincolnshire) whose spire is 89.9m tall (Grid Reference TF32668739.

And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Where are the tallest church towers/spires in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

 

The Answer to the Last Question

Where in the UK is the oldest football ground in the world which is still in use?

(Hint- it isn’t a club ground in the main professional leagues in the UK!)

The oldest football ground in the world which is still in use is in Chapeltown, Lancashire, which is 5km north of Bolton in Greater Manchester. The pitch is opposite the Chetham Arms pub on High Street and is now part of the Tower Community Centre. Games were played as early as 1856, and it became the home of Turton FC from 1871. The pitch was taken over by Old Boltonians AFC in 1952. (Grid Reference SD73401580)

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

Living Nearest to Father Christmas

For most of us late December and the New Year is a time for family, friends and festive celebration. Christmas Eve in particular brings a great sense of relief as, hopefully the shopping, wrapping, decoration and travelling is all done and the children (well, all of us actually, of course!) anticipate with excitement Father Christmas’ arrival. Obviously Santa Claus has to plan a complicated route from the North Pole to everybody’s house – so whose home is closest to Father Christmas and so perhaps most likely for early delivery and least likely to be forgotten?

Compass villages are those which are the easternmost, westernmost, southernmost and northernmost in a county, region or country. And it is the northernmost compass places that are closest to the North Pole and Father Christmas’ home. Where are the ‘Father Christmas First’ villages, therefore?

Overall in the UK it is the village of Skaw on the Isle of Unst in the Shetland Islands of Scotland (Grid Reference HP66171541).Skaw is a tiny hamlet on an island with only 630 residents, and is “only” 3230 km from the North Pole, which is quite close in terms of Santa Claus’ Christmas schedule.

In England the most northerly settlement is Marshall Meadows (Grid Reference NT97915630), a hamlet on the coast of Marshall Meadows Bay, 4km north of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. It sits very close to the England/Scotland border, and although remote within the UK is very close to the main A1 road and also the London to Edinburgh East Coast railway line. The hamlet has a hotel, a farm, a caravan site and a few isolated houses. Marshall Meadows is 3801km from the North Pole!

In Northern Ireland the most northerly settlement is Rathlin Island (village) which lies 8km off the north coast of County Antrim (Grid Reference NR34390678). The island has a population of c75, and is a 45 minute ferry trip from the nearest mainland town of Ballycastle. Rathlin Island is 3893km from the North Pole.

And in Wales the northernmost village is Talacre, near Prestatyn, in Flintshire, which is in the ceremonial county of Clwyd (Grid Reference SJ12368452). Its population is c150, and it is principally a holiday retreat on the North wales coast. It is 4078km from the North Pole.

Closer to home you might be interested in where the northern compass village is in your own county. In Greater London, for example, the northern compass village is Bulls Cross, 2km north of Enfield. It was first recorded as a village in 1465, but is most famous today as the home of Tottenham Hotspur FC’s training ground (Grid Reference TQ34209950).

Two questions arise from all of this. Firstly, if Skaw might expect Father Christmas first, who might expect to be last on his list in the UK? Most probably it’s the southernmost village which is St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly (in the county of Cornwall), which is 4458km from the North Pole (Grid Reference SV88770720).

The second question is “who gets the New Year first in the UK?”  In practice we all get it at the same time, as the clock strikes midnight in all places at the same moment across the whole of the UK. But actually of course, the true moment of the start of a new day (and year) progresses continuously from East to West, so the place in the UK which technically gets the New Year first is the easternmost compass settlement, which is the town of Lowestoft in Suffolk (Grid Reference TM54709210). The western compass settlement is the town of Belleek in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland (Grid Reference NV00822544), which in universal time terms actually welcomes the New Year last in the UK – if true global time was in use this would be about 45 minutes after Lowestoft!

Happy New Year!!!

 

And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Where in the UK is the oldest football ground in the world which is still in use?

(Hint- it isn’t a club ground in the main professional leagues in the UK!)

 

The Answer to the Last Question

Where is the remotest place in England i.e. the place that is furthest from a public road?

The most remote place in England is close to the summit of Glendhu Hill in Northumberland, which is 7.627km from the nearest classified road. It is close to the Scottish border to the west of Kielder Forest.

(Grid Reference NY58008558))

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

 

A Walk in the Woods – Reaching for the Heights

A popular destination for anybody seeking to ‘get out more’ is to head for the local woods. At the last count 13% of all the land in the UK is covered by woodland – 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland but only 8% in Northern Ireland. At county level it is perhaps surprising that the most wooded county in the UK is Surrey (22.4%), which is on the fringes of Greater London. The least wooded ceremonial county is Cambridgeshire with just 3.6% of its land under woodland, although amongst ‘modern counties’ the title of ‘least wooded’ falls to Eilean Sar, the Western Isles of Scotland, with less than 2% woodland.

The woodlands of our own home counties provide a rich range of ‘record locations’. These include the largest woodland area, the oldest tree, the broadest tree and the tallest tree for each county – and in many counties there are also examples of ‘champion trees’, which are the tallest, broadest or oldest of their species in the UK. Visiting the tallest tree in your own county can be a quite humbling experience as you realise the age and sheer size of the largest and oldest living things on the planet.

West Sussex is the second most wooded county in the UK (21.4%) and is home to a number of champion ‘tallest trees’ . The tallest is a Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which stands in woodlands at the National Trust property Nymans Gardens, Handcross, 10km south of Crawley. This specimen is 51m tall and can be ‘visited’ when Nymans Gardens is open to the public (Grid Reference TQ27152954). Giant Redwoods are, of course, a non-native species in the UK and originate from North America – in many counties, though, they are the tallest trees to be found, having been popular additions to grand country estates during the 19th century. West Sussex, interestingly, is also home to the tallest native tree in the UK, a specimen of the European Beech (Fagus sylvatica).  The tree is also in National Trust woodlands, on the Devil’s Dyke estate at Newtimber Holt, Newtimber, which is 5km north of Brighton on the South Downs. The tree was measured in 2015 at 46m tall (Grid Reference TQ27701260). Tree records, of course, can change, as record trees die or fall, or new record trees are discovered or simply overtake the old ones by growing!  The Newtimber beech took the record from a beech tree in Gloucestershire by 1m, for example, when it was eventually measured for the first time. Nearby at Newtimber Holt is an ash tree in the UK, which is 36.5m tall. This tree lost the record as the tallest of its species in the UK in July 2018, when an ash tree at Workman’s Wood near Painswick in Gloucestershire was measured at 41m tall (Grid Reference SO90001090). So Gloucestershire and West Sussex have ‘traded’ record trees in recent years!

East Sussex is much less wooded than West Sussex (c10%), but its record height trees match those of its neighbour. The county has two trees which share the title of tallest. Like West Sussex, one is a Giant Redwood, at Beauport Park, near Hastings, which was measured as 45.5m tall in 2014 (Grid Reference TQ77901428). The tree was planted by the Lamb family, who owned the estate, using one of the first batch of Giant Redwood seeds brought to the UK by botanist William Lobb in the mid-1850s. The equal tallest tree in the county is also one with a great heritage. The Grand Fir (Abies grandis) tree at Eridge Park, just north of Crowborough, was measured at 45.5m in April 2016, but its growth has been well monitored. The tree was planted by Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister in 1868, and by 1909 it was 23m tall. Measurements by various methods between 1957 and 2016 have recorded it as between 45.5m and 46m tall. (Grid Reference TQ56483597). Unfortunately you can’t visit this tree unless you are attending an event at Eridge Park, as the woodlands are private – but in winter you can see the top of the tree from the nearby A22 road at Eridge.

So where is the tallest tree in the UK? Well its a Douglas Fir tree in Reelig Glen near Inverness, which is 66.4m tall and is the tallest coniferous tree in Europe. It only became the tallest tree in 2014 when it grew to exceed the height of the 64m Dughall Mor Douglas Fir which is only 50m away. The trees are in woodland on the northern slopes of The Aird, 8km west of Inverness (Grid Reference NH55924246)

If you want to find out more about the record trees in your own county, there are two great sources

www.monumentaltrees.org

www.treeregister.org

 

And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Where is the remotest place in England i.e. the place that is furthest from a public road?

 

The Answer to the Last Question

Where is the oldest family business in the UK based, and when was it founded?

The oldest family business in the UK is R.J.Balson and Sons Ltd, a family butchers which was established in 1515AD in Bridport in Dorset. It has been owned and managed by 25 generations of the same family.

(Grid Reference SY46199302)

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

 

Our Oldest Ancestors

Over the last million years or so there have been long periods of time when what is now the British Isles was uninhabitable. The spread of ice sheets during these most recent phases of The Ice Age covered much of the land, and the rest was permafrost and tundra like the Canadian Arctic today. In the warmer phases, though, our human ancestors moved north from what is now mainland Europe, and evidence of their times and lives emerges from archaeological digs around the country. In every one of our counties that evidence shows when and where our earliest ancestors lived

Greater Manchester is one of our most densely populated counties and is home to 2.7million people today. The oldest evidence of human occupation is mostly found on the moorlands in the east of the county on the edges of The Pennines. Human tools dating from the Mesolithic period have been found in several sites around Rochdale and Oldham, and also in the peat of Kersal Moss in Salford in the west of Greater Manchester. At Mellor Iron Age fort, which sits on a spur above the River Goyt north of Mellor, 7km east of Stockport, excavations have revealed over 200 bladed flint tools dating from 8000 to 6000BC showing that Mesolithic humans occupied the site long before it became an Iron Age fort. (Grid Reference SJ98208893).So our earliest ancestors in Greater Manchester were living in the area some 10,000 years ago.

Further south our oldest ancestors arrived rather earlier,. “Londoners”, for example, have been around much longer than “Mancunians”! In Greater London there is evidence of human occupation which dates back to about 400,000 years ago. An archaeological dig at Wantsunt Pit in Galloway Drive, Crayford, on Dartford Heath in the London Borough of Bexley revealed hand axes in the ancient river gravels. Their shape and size indicated they were of the Acheulian style, which dates them to the period between 424,000 and 374,000 years ago. This was a period known as the Hoxnian interglacial, when the ice sheets temporarily retreated, and the evidence shows that human ancestors migrated into the region from further south as the climate improved (Grid Reference TQ51637390).

Lanarkshire is one of Scotland’s most densely populated ceremonial (and historic) counties. At Howburn Farm, about 7km north of Biggar in the south of the county, archaeologists discovered over 5000 flint tools during excavations between 2005 and 2009. These have been dated to the late Palaeolithic period about c12000 years BC, which makes them evidence of the earliest inhabitants not only in Lanarkshire but also in Scotland. (Grid Reference NT07364401).

In comparison to the oldest inhabitants of Wales, though, the earliest “Scots” are mere newcomers. The oldest human evidence in Wales has been dated to the Lower Palaeolithic period of about 225,000 years ago, and comprises a jawbone, teeth and handaxes of a Neanderthal, found between 1978 and 1995 in a cave at Bontnewydd near St.Asaph in the ceremonial county of Clwyd / historic county of Denbighshire. (Grid Reference SJ01537108).

And where is the earliest evidence of humans anywhere in the British Isles? Well, that was found at Happisburgh on the west coast of Norfolk in 2014 in the shape of footprints in sediments found on the shoreline. The footprints were dated to c800,000 years old, and were left as human ancestors travelled through the area during one of the warmer periods in the Ice Age (Grid Reference TG38083128).

However, although there are isolated examples of very early ancestors, most of them would have been ‘temporary’ visitors who migrated back to Europe when the Ice Age turned cold again. For most of us our earliest ancestors were migrants to the British Isles some time in the last 8000 to 10,000 years. Where is the earliest evidence of human ancestors in your own county?

 

And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Where is the oldest family business in the UK based, and when was it founded?

 

The Answer to the Last Question

Where is the largest inland island in the UK?

The largest “inland island” in the UK is the island of Inchmurrin, which lies in Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow in the ceremonial county of Dumbartonshire. It is 120ha in size, and has a long history of human occupation, from a 7th century monastery to a 14th century castle to its current tourist cottages and restaurant.

(Grid Reference NS37908710)

 

The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk