It’s all NEWS to me. Definitely not fake!

Cornwall

Over the past two weeks, Steph and I have been enjoying a BBC2 TV series about Cornwall by the Padstow-based chef, Rick Stein. For my non-UK readers, Cornwall lies at the southwest extremity of mainland Britain. In fact, the Lizard is the southernmost point.

Stein has made many other TV series, from locations all around the world, and they are primarily concerned with the food and dishes of those places. In his Cornwall series, however, Stein sets out to show what the county means to him, his home for more than five decades. Cheffing is just one aspect of the programs, as he also covers the beautiful landscapes, the people, as well as the excellent produce from land and sea for which Cornwall is renowned.

I’ve been to Cornwall just twice. In the late 1990s, while I was Head of the Genetic Resources Center at International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, and managing the world’s largest genebank for rice, I was contacted by someone from the Eden Project near St Austell, requesting samples of some rice varieties they might display in the tropical biome (in one of the original three geodesic domes).

As a special treat, Steph and I were invited to visit to the Eden Project in the summer of 2001 to have a behind-the scenes look at the project that had only just opened its doors to the public. It’s now a major world visitor attraction.

It took another sixteen years in September 2017 before we returned to Cornwall, to spend a glorious week touring the county, primarily to visit a plethora of National Trust and English Heritage sites. And among the places we visited was Lizard Point. You can’t get more southerly than here (49.9593° N, 5.2065° W). It was a glorious day when we visited, and we took advantage of the weather to walk along the cliffs and enjoy the vistas that opened up before us.

The map below shows where these photos were taken. Just check the partial vista symbols.

As we approached the view over Housel Bay and a collapsed cliff, I saw these black birds suddenly fly up from a nearby pasture. A few minutes later we were watching a pair of choughs (which feature on the Cornish coat of arms) on the rocks below. What a joy, since choughs are no longer common in Cornwall, and have only recently begun to re-establish themselves once cattle grazing practices had reverted to what was common before the chough decline. There are now about 100 breeding pairs of choughs in the county. A success story.

Having reflected on this visit to the southernmost point of mainland Britain, I remembered that, on 30 May 2015 during our 2250 mile tour of Scotland, we had visited the northernmost point of the mainland, at Dunnet Head (58.6719° N, 3.3760° W) in Caithness.

There are splendid views across the Pentland Firth to Orkney, and we were fortunate that during our visit (and John o’ Groats the day before) the views were clear. The day after you could hardly see 50m down the fog-bound road.

So as a keen geographer (I took a degree in environmental botany and geography at the University of Southampton at the end of the 1960s), I’ve always had an interest in the spaces around me; my internal GPS. That’s the N and S covered. How about E and W?

In terms of the British mainland, I’ve not visited either of the two locations with claim to E and W fame: Ness Point (52.4812° N, 1.7628° E) at Lowestoft on the coast of Suffolk in East Anglia, and Ardnamuchan Point in Scotland. I’ve been close to both but never actually visited.

What about my other NEWS around the world? Check out this map:


 

The end of the road . . .

I’ve been deceived all these years!

Scotland 123I have to admit being disappointed—but only ever so slightly—to discover that John o’ Groats is NOT the northernmost point on the British mainland (although apparently it is the spot where the ‘last house’ is situated.

Since everyone who undertakes a marathon walk, run or bike-ride the whole length of the country, usually for charity, starts or ends their journey in John o’ Groats (to or from Land’s End in Cornwall, with more than 800 miles between them). I don’t know why, but I’d always wanted to visit John o’ Groats. I guess because it appears in the news on a regular basis, an iconic location in our nation’s geography. So it was one of the places we included on our itinerary during our recent Scottish Highlands and Island road trip.

The actual most northern spot on the mainland is Dunnet Head, about 15 miles to west of John o’ Groats. Turns out that Land’s End is not the most southerly point either. That would be the Lizard Point, but which is actually closer to John o’ Groats by less than 10 miles.

We arrived in John o’ Groats under brilliant blue skies on the Saturday afternoon, and enjoyed clear views over the Pentland Firth, the stretch of what can be perilous waters between the mainland and the Orkney Islands, less than a dozen miles north. After wandering around the harbour, we than drove the couple of miles east to Duncansby Head, lighthouse and Stacks, enjoying even more spectacular views over the cliffs.

Since our B&B accommodation for the night was in Thurso we drove there via Dunnet Head and its lighthouse to see the most northern point of the mainland for ourselves.

In the late afternoon sun we could even see the tip of the Old Man of Hoy sea stack above a headland on the northeast coast of the large island of Hoy immediately north.