Archive for the ‘Places of Interest’ Category

Over the last week an unusual number of ships have been in distress off the coasts of Europe. Ten people died when a fire broke out on board the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic near Corfu off the coat of Greece; the cargo ship Blue Sky M was abandoned by its crew off the southern tip of Italy with 970 migrants on board; the cargo ship Ezadeen was also similarly abandoned by its crew off southern Italy with 400 migrants on board; and eight people lost their lives when the cargo ship Cemfjord, which was carrying cement from Denmark to Runcorn in Cheshire, sank in the Pentland Firth, the strait that separates the Orkney Islands from the far north-east coast of Scotland. 

hoegh osaka, car container ship, solent, bramble bank

The Hoegh Osaka is reported as carrying 1,400 vehicles and 70 to 80 pieces of construction equipment, about one-third full, and was on route to Bremerhaven in Germany.

In the most recent incident last weekend, a 51,000 tonne car transporter the Hoegh Osaka was deliberately grounded in the Solent, the strait of water between the Isle of Wight and the mainland of southern England, when it developed a list after having left the port of Southampton. Fortunately no lives were lost and the 24 crew members and the pilot have been taken off the ship, with only two of the crew suffering minor injuries. The Hoegh Osaka is currently beached with a 52° tilt on a sandbank, Bramble Bank, which is in the middle of the Solent.

And just over six years ago, in the early hours of 11 November 2008, the 40-year old Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was forced aground on Bramble Bank by strong winds on her approach to Southampton Docks. It was her last visit to Southampton prior to before becoming a floating hotel in Dubai. Fortunately the tide was rising and four tugs were able to pull her clear of the sandbank, and she docked only 90 minutes late. 

BrambleBankMapBramble Bank, otherwise known as ‘The Brambles’ is an arrowhead-shaped sandbar in the central Solent which is often uncovered during the twice-yearly equinoxial tides. At other times it is a significant navigational hazard or a useful escape for smaller vessels from the huge ships that come and go from Southampton. The bank is moving very slowly westward and it is marked at its south-eastern limit by the Brambles sea pile, which is a meteorological station, and on its western limit by the West Knoll buoy. 

bramble bank, sandbank, solent, cricket match, equinoxial tide

Last year, the match was held on Thursday 11 September. However in 2013, the Brambles sandbank didn’t appear but the game still went ahead with water lapping around the player’s ankles, and towards the end, their knees.

On a lighter note, Bramble Bank is renowned for the annual cricket match that is held there during the late summer equinoxial tide, usually at the end of August or in early September. The game dates from the 1950s and the Royal Southern Yacht Club based at Hamble on the mainland plays the Island Sailing Club from Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The teams and their supporters arrive at the sandbank in an armada of small boats, with the busy shipping lane not far away, just as the sandbank is first exposed. The uneven surface of the sandbank with some sand and large puddles at best, ensures that the game is more a social occasion than a serious cricket match. The game never lasts long as the tide returns after about an hour. There is a 360°view of the 2014 cricket match here and a lively report here of the 2010 game in the Daily Telegraph.

The Brambles cricket match has been described as ‘quintessentially English’ with the victor of the game being pre-determined as the two clubs simply take it in turns to ‘win’ the match, regardless of how the match progresses. Conditions allowing, a temporary bar, the Bramble Inn, is set up to dispense Pimms, though more often than not the bar remains on one of the boats. Bramble Bank was referred to during a debate on a licensing bill in the House of Lords in 2003, when a government minister was asked which licensing authority was responsible for Bramble Bank and other sandbanks like it, which were exposed only two or three times a year. An answer was apparently not forthcoming.

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centre of great britain, centre of united kingdom

If uou click on this map of the United Kingdom, you can see two small pink circles which, very roughly, mark the centre of Great Britain (including its 401 islands) and the centre of England.

If someone asked you where the centre of Great Britain was or for that matter where the centre of England was, would you know? Or more to the point would you care? The centre of Britain must obviously be further north than the centre of England, as Britain includes Scotland, of which there is quite a lot. And the centre of Britain is likely to be further west than the centre of England because of Wales.

Northern Ireland is not included in the centre of Great Britain as the country we are part of is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that is Great Britain doesn’t include  Northern Ireland. Well to add to the other obscure geographical posts that I have written previously, here are some answers.

centre of britain, dunsop bridge, millstone grit, whitendale hanging stones

The weathered stones of an outcrop of Millstone Grit called Whitendale Hanging Stones north of Dunsop Bridge. The wooden post marks the exact centre of Great Britain.
© Tom Howard/Creative Commons Licence

The nearest village to the geographical centre of Britain (including its 401 islands) was officially recognised by the Ordnance Survey in 1992 as being Dunsop Bridge in the Forest of Bowland near Clitheroe in Lancashire. However in 2002, the Ordnance Survey calculated that the exact point is at Whitendale Hanging Stones (grid reference SD 64188 56541), near Brennand Farm, 4½ miles north of Dunsop Bridge. The measurement calculates the point at which a two-dimensional object – think of a cardboard cut-out of Great Britain – would balance horizontally on the head of a theoretical pin, that is its centre of gravity.

centre of britain, dunsop bridge, phone box

The plaque in the BT phone box in Dunsop Bridge that marks the centre of Great Britain.

BT also installed its 100,000th payphone at Dunsop Bridge (not by coincidence surely?) and included a plaque to explain its significance. The plaque reads ‘You are calling from the BT payphone that marks the centre of Great Britain.’ The telephone box was unveiled by the explorer and writer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

The geographical centre of England was calculated by the Ordnance Survey in 2002, again by finding the centre point of the two-dimensional shape made by England. It is in a field close to Lindley Hall Farm near Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire (grid reference SP 36373 96143).

centre of england, lindley hall farm

A post next to a hedge in a field of Lindley Hall Farm near Fenny Drayton points to the exact centre of England.

In June 2013, a 6ft high ‘monument’ made from a railway sleeper was erected on the side of the field with a sign pointing to the exact point, 492ft into the field. According to a BBC report at the time, the owner of the farm, Stephen Farmer, said it could become a tourist attraction in future, explaining that ‘It’s a position on the map, the same as Land’s End [and] John O’Groats. People go to see their marks and have their photos taken so I think it wants to be known to the public, where it is.’ As the field and the path to it are privately owned, Mr Farmer will presumably have to allow public access to the monument if he wants to put it on the map. Incidentally Dunsop Bridge is roughly 95 miles north-north-west of Fenny Drayton.

Some people argue that the furthest point from the sea should be considered the centre of Britain. The Ordnance Survey has found this point is just east of Church Flatts Farm, about a mile south-east of Coton-in-the-Elms, Derbyshire. Haltwhistle in Northumberland also claims, less convincingly, to be the centre of Britain based around it being on the mid-point of the longest line of longitude (the vertical line) on the mainland of Britain. The town even has a Centre of Britain Hotel!

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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.

map, featureless, britain, ordnance survey, grid square, pylon, electricity, overhead line

This is how it looks on a map. The blue square in the middle has nothing in it except a single electricity pylon (the v-symbol) and the bit of overhead line between pylons.
© Ordnance Survey 2013

map, featureless, britain

The blue spot in the middle of this map, to the east (right) of Goole, marks the location of Britain’s most featureless place.
© Ordnance Survey 2013

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.

featureless, britain, pylon, electricity, overhead line, ordnance survey, grid square, farmland

This is what the most featureless place looks like on the ground. The electricity pylon and the overhead line to the left lie just in the kilometre grid square, and that’s it. The rest is flat farmland.
© Roger Gilbertson/Creative Commons Licence.

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.’

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Like the London Underground, the Paris Métro has its share of interesting or unusual station names: Campo-Formio, Dupleix, Europe, Glacière, Invalides, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Malesherbes, Oberkampf, Poissonnière, Pyramides, Rome, Stalingrad. The names of historic figures or battles are far more common than they are in London. Are the French more international in outlook and do they have a greater sense of history than we have in Britain? Authors, intellectuals, revolutionaries, military men, and even scientists, are prominent. There is a station for Robespierre but no station for Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc).

pont de passy, seine, bir-hakeim, battle, free french

In 1948, the Pont de Passy over the Seine was re-named Pont de Bir-Hakeim to commemorate the Battle of Bir-Hakeim, fought by Free French forces in Libya in 1942. Bir-Hakeim métro station is off-camera to the right

In you have ever been to Paris, you will likely have been to the Eiffel Tower. And if you have gone there or left there by metro, you will have used the elevated station close to the left bank of the Seine that is nearest to the tower: Bir-Hakeim. In fact the sign on the station walls says ‘Bir-Hakeim – Tour Eiffel’. It’s an unusual name. Is it the name of an Arab leader? To me it has the feel of Egypt or somewhere else in the Middle East about it. Well it is the name of an abandoned oasis in the Libyan desert in north Africa, the former site of a Turkish fort located at the crossroad of Bedouin paths. But to France it is the place where its pride was restored after its humiliating defeat by Nazi Germany in June 1940 in the Second World.

bir-hakeim, paris métro, battle, free french, france

This plaque at Bir-Hakeim métro station translates ‘At Bir Hakeim from May 27 to 11 June 1942, the First Free French Brigade repulsed furious assaults from two divisions of the enemy and affirmed to the world that France has never ceased fighting’

For fifteen days in 1942, a Free French force of 3,700 soldiers under General Marie Pierre Koenig and vastly outnumbered by 45,000 attacking German and Italian forces led by General Erwin Rommel, defended the site from 26 May to 11 June. This allowed the retreating British Eighth Army to escape the annihilation that Rommel had planned, and to gain time to reorganize and subsequently halt the Axis advance at the First Battle of El Alamein in July. The full story of the battle can be read here. Koenig’s report after the battle said that 1,200 men were killed, wounded or were missing. (more…)

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furthest point, ruadh stac beag, fisherfield forest, wester ross, scotland

The ‘furthest point’ is in the centre of this map, to the left of Ruadh Stac Beag.
© 2013 Ordnance Survey

What is the furthest point from a tarmaced public road in mainland Britain? There may be other contenders for remoteness, but the Ordnance Survey has determined this point as a peat bog on the western hillside of Ruadh Stac Beag in Wester Ross in Scotland, amongst the burns (‘allt’ in Gaelic) that come from Lochan a Bhraghad. The point is at a height of about 610m (2,000 feet) and the grid reference is NH 0202 7700.

It is 10.43 km (6.48 miles) in a straight line from the nearest road, the A832 near the village of Kinlochewe. But up here in the boggy  mountainous wilderness of the Fisherfield Forest of Wester Ross, that doesn’t mean very much.

furthest point, wester ross, scotland

The ‘furthest point’ is marked by the blue spot in the centre of this map of Wester Ross, Scotland,
© 2013 Ordnance Survey

The shortest distance by a path, where there is one, is from Kinlochewe, the nearest settlement, and it is 24.2 km (15 miles). There are a number of deer-season only hunting lodges and abandoned houses, and an out of season bothy, Shenavall, to the north of the ‘furthest point’ near Loch na Sealga and below An Teallach (1,062m), but that is all. There is a nearer settlement at Letterewe on the side of Loch Maree to the south-east, but that is on a private estate.

There are no photographs of the location as far as I know but the nearest photograph, below right, is of Lochan a’ Bhraghad, a small lochan close by. For what it’s worth, the ‘furthest point’ is about 500m away over the slight hill on the right side of the picture.

lochan a' bhraghad, ruadh stac mor, wester ross, scotland

Lochan a’ Bhraghad north east of Ruadh Stac Mor.
© Stuart Meek/Creative Commons Licence

In 2002, the Daily Telegraph sent one of its reporters, Colin Cottell, to this remote spot. He rang the Ordnance Survey to check before setting out. ‘Less than seven miles? Hardly worth getting out of my sleeping bag for. Or so I imagined’. His report is here.

The Fisherfield Forest, and the Dundonnell Forest to the north, is sometimes nicknamed The Great Wilderness because the area is entirely devoid of permanent settlements. Although termed a forest, the area has very few trees, though it was a pine forest 200 years ago.

fisherfield forest, ruadh stac beag, wester ross, scotland

In the midst of the Fisherfield Forest, this is a view down Gleann na Muice Beag to the north of Ruadh Stac Beag and about 1km from the ‘furthest point’.
© Roger McLachlan/Creative Commons Licence

Three estates cover most of the area which is maintained primarily for deer stalking: Dundonnell Estate covers 134 km² in the northwest part of the forest, the Eilean Darach estate covers 262 km² in the northeast, and majority of the area, including all the southern and central sections, forms the 323 km² Letterewe estate.

Other places of interest in Britain:

Lowest land in Britain

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diana princess of wales, fountain, hyde park, london, anti-clockwise

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London.
Children are walking along the fountain in an anti-clockwise direction

I was at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, London, a few weeks ago with my eight-year old grand-daughter. As the official website says ‘water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom’. Although the information on the site says visitors should ‘feel free to sit on the edge of the Memorial and refresh your feet’, it adds ‘visitors are asked not to walk on the Memorial’. Well when I was there, on a pleasant sunny weekday afternoon, it is hardly surprising that a couple of hundred children were walking and running all over the circular memorial having some outdoor fun.

My grand-daughter completed about a half a dozen circuits of the fountain, following and then passing groups of children, never seeming to get tired of going round and round. Then all of a sudden she was walking through the water in the opposite direction to virtually everybody else. Well, so what? But it struck me that everyone was moving in an anti-clockwise direction around the fountain (counter-clockwise in the USA). There wasn’t a notice telling the children that they had to move in a particular direction (after all they were only supposed to be splashing their toes in the water), nor was there any discernible difference between the two halves of the circular fountain that might influence the direction that the first children to arrive at the fountain in the morning, might take. Obviously once the early arrivals went in one direction, then the others coming after would be influenced to walk in the same direction, but was anti-clockwise the preferred direction?

roger bannister, athlete, running, oxford, four-minute mile

Roger Bannister becomes the first person to break the four-minute mile, running anti-clockwise, at the Iffley Road track in Oxford on 6 May 1954, in a time of 3 min 59.4 sec

Athletes on tracks throughout the world run in an anti-clockwise direction. ‘Left hand inside’ was adopted at the first London Olympics in 1908 and it has been used ever since. However the UK Amateur Athletic Association left open the choice of direction and as late as 1948, Oxford University athletes still ran clockwise. Some of the reasons advanced for this are, firstly, that with the majority of humans being right-handed, the same applies to your feet, so you push off with your right foot, and you are automatically steered in an anti-clockwise direction. Secondly, with the heart being on the left-hand side of our bodies, running anti-clockwise is more comfortable and reduces the stress on the heart.

One study though showed that statistically people tend to turn left more easily than right, although the variability is large. This may suggest that running in a left-hand turn (anti-clockwise) is easier than in a right-hand turn (clockwise). But why? Well the study concluded that ‘veering is related to a sense of straight ahead that could be shaped by vestibular inputs’. Whatever that means, it suggests that the two reasons given earlier are incorrect.

The anti-clockwise rule also applies to ice-skating, roller-skating, ballroom dancing, and apparently to aircraft in the circuit waiting to land. But this doesn’t seem to prove much as it doesn’t apply to horse-racing, which can be clockwise or anti-clockwise, nor to motor racing, which is predominantly run clockwise.

But for the children going round the Memorial Fountain, it does seem that anti-clockwise is their preferred direction.

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gavdos, crete, greece, libyan sea, mediterranean sea

Gavdos lies south of Crete in the Libyan Sea, some 260km north of Tobruk in Libya

If you were asked where the southernmost part of Europe was, would you say Spain, or Italy or Greece? The more geographically informed of you might say Gibraltar, Sicily, or Crete. One of you would certainly answer the Canary Islands. And some bright spark would argue that it was the Falkland Islands because they’re part of Britain, and Britain’s in Europe isn’t it? Well Crete is nearly right, but there’s an island off the south coast of Crete that is the southernmost part of Europe.

The island of Gavdos lies in the Libyan Sea, 48 kilometres south of Hora Sfakion, a small coastal town in the Sfakia region, the wild west of Crete. You can get to Gavdos by a ferry from Hora Sfakion, which takes two hours, though guide books warn somewhat dramatically that you can sometimes be marooned on the island as sailings can be cancelled due to bad weather so you need to come prepared.

gavdos, crete, ferry, hora sfakion

The north coast of Gavdos as seen from the ferry from Hora Sfakion

The island is roughly triangular in shape, it is 33 square km in area (about the size of Hastings or Worthing), and the highest point is Mount Vardia, 345m.

Fewer than 50 people live permanently on the island in small villages and hamlets, but in the summer the numbers can swell to several thousand, almost all of whom arrive by ferry at the harbour in Karave. There are no hotels, and not that many apartments or rooms to rent. Many of the summer visitors sleep in tents on the beaches or under the trees. There is some agriculture but tourism is the economic mainstay of the island. The rocky landscape of Gavdos is covered by low-lying shrubs but there are some pine and juniper forests, and it is an important stop for migrating birds. More information is given in this Wikipedia entry.

sarakiniko, gavdos, crete

A sleepy cafe on the beach at Sarakiniko on the north coast of Gavdos.

The attraction to tourists apart from the sun and several good beaches, is its remoteness, lack of commercial development, and the hippie-like laid back pace of life. This article gives you a good idea of why some see the island as the last paradise in Europe.

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