How do you decide what is the most featureless place? The Cambridge dictionary defines featureless as ‘looking the same in every part, usually in a way that most people consider to be boring’. Even the wildest parts of Scotland or the flattest fen in East Anglia have a ditch, bridleway, stream or hill to break the monotony.
Over ten years ago a listener to John Peel’s Home Truths show on Radio 4 asked about boring places in Britain. This triggered the search for Britain’s most boring place. The BBC turned to the Ordnance Survey to see if looking at maps would provide the answer on the basis that their large-scale maps show almost all features in the landscape. Maps are divided by grid lines into squares that are a kilometre wide and tall, and features are identified by various symbols. The obvious thing to do therefore was to find the grid square that had the least symbols in it. Was there a completely blank square among the 320,000 squares in the widely-used Landranger map series? This series of maps are at a scale of 1:50,000, that is one centimetre on the map is 50,000 centimetres on the ground, which is half a kilometre.
After setting a computer to look at every one of the squares, the Ordnance Survey came up with answer! A field in the East Riding of Yorkshire is the most featureless place in Britain.
The square kilometre of farmland on the outskirts of the village of Ousefleet, just south of the River Ouse, near Scunthorpe, has nothing in it except a single electricity pylon and some overhanging cable. The square at grid reference SE 830 220 (the south-west corner of the square) on OS map 112 is as near as cartographers can get to a completely blank square in the Landranger map series.
Philip Round from the OS said at the time ‘We’re not saying it’s the dullest place in Britain. It might be the most fascinating place on earth but on our Landranger maps it has the least amount of information. No ditches, streams or buildings are shown on this particular scale of map. That’s quite some going, considering the low-lying areas of East Anglia and remote parts of Scotland.’
The land in the square has been farmed by the Ella family for over 100 years, and wheat, barley and sugar beet is grown on it. Mrs Avril Ella told the BBC that ‘It’s a lovely place to live, it’s a small, friendly community with a lovely church nearby.’ But she wasn’t impressed by the thought that map enthusiasts may soon be flocking to the location. ‘If people want to come and look at a field, I don’t mind, but they’re wasting their petrol.’
The OS warned that the field’s claim to fame could be threatened by more detailed maps of the same area. ‘Drainage ditches or dykes might be shown up’ added Mr Round.
There is a contender for the most featureless place in Britain near Longbridgemuir in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, but we will leave that for another day.
Other unusual places of interest in Britain: