Eight Natural Wonders of the British Isles

Note: there are far, far more than eight natural wonders in the British Isles; the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, the various coves and stacks dotted all around the coastline, almost all of Cornwall; they all deserve representation, as does everywhere else. Let’s just take these eight as a decent place to start, shall we?

1: The white cliffs of Dover

Note: there won’t ever be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, unless someone brings them in a cage, from America, and delivers them to the bottom of southern England’s iconic chalky coastline, and then releases them to be pecked apart by local hawks and falcons. Blackbirds, yes. Bluebirds, never.

2: Cheddar Gorge

Our very own grand canyon, but only in the sense that it is a canyon, and it is rather grand. Cheddar Gorge, carved out of the Mendip hillside by water erosion, scores over other gorges of similar gorgeousness by also being the birthplace of cheddar cheese. Something to do with handy storage in the damp caves, apparently.

Speaking of which…

3: Wookey Hole

Not, sadly, the pit from which Chewbacca was pulled, the caves at Wookey Hole are only a few miles from Cheddar (the whole of the Mendips is riddled with underground caverns) and majestic in their scale. If you’ve ever seen the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who adventure Revenge of the Cybermen, you’ve seen some of the caves in action.

Note: Fans of Echo and the Bunneymen may wonder if this was where they shot the cover photo for their album “Ocean Rain.” It’s not. That was Carnglaze Caverns in Cornwall.

4: Loch Ness

Not the biggest Scottish loch in terms of area covered, but definitely the one that contains the most water, and of course the most famous. The myth of a monster in the vicinity of the loch dates back to the 7th Century (and possibly earlier), but only really gained serious traction in the early 1900s with a couple of newspaper-led eyewitness reports. Do not let this put you off, for the purposes of this article let Loch Ness stand as an representative of the Scottish lochs, and the Scottish lochs stand as a representative for the entire highland landscape, all of which is stunning.

5: The Lake District

And of course you can’t praise one wet and hilly part of Britain without stopping to pay tribute to another. The Lake District (admirably named for maximum communicative effect, I trust you’ll agree), is the county treasure of Cumbria, playing host to dramatic peaks – England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, is there – beautifully valleys and fells, and of course, those stunning lakes. A landscape breathtaking enough to inspire poets such as Wordsworth to create their greatest work: including that one about the daffodils.

OK, enough with the big picture. Let’s specialize!

6: The Old Man of Hoy

There are loads of stacks and arches dotted all over the coastline of Britain, largely because our islands are odd in shape with many sharp corners, and the sea hates that. Up in Orkney, one of islands dotted to the north of Scotland, you will find the Old Man of Hoy, one of the many sea eroded shapes which has been given personification and name by by locals who wish to welcome the landscape into their community. It’s a hell of trek to get to see him, but well worth it, especially as he won’t be there forever.

7: Giant’s Causeway

And while we’re crossing the sea, over in the northernmost part of the island of Ireland (that’s not just a protracted way of saying Northern Ireland, by the way, although that’s the geopolitical name for the country we’re looking at) we find this startling array of basalt columns (some 40,000 in total), which were thrown up by an ancient volcano. Again, they’ve been the source of local legend for centuries – most notably the story of Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) building the causeway in order to walk to Scotland for a fight with his enemy Benandonner.

Now, let’s end with a biggy:

8: Pistyll Rhaeadr

Hidden away near the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys, Wales, twelve miles west of Oswestry, is the 240-feet tall waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr (the name means “spring of the waterfall,” helpfully). It’s erroneously described as being the tallest waterfall in Wales, or the biggest single drop in Great Britain, which it isn’t, but it’s still a) a very tall waterfall and b) a hell of a drop, so….



For more of the world’s wonders, catch this weekend’s Planet Earth marathon, which kicks off Saturday, April 21 at 6 am/5c.

Now go, explore the British Isles and put your findings here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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