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19 May 2016

5 of the Most Extreme Locations in Britain

“I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it." – That’s an excerpt from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which defines the beauty of the British Isles almost perfectly.

The UK isn’t known for extreme conditions, be they towering peaks or deep caverns, but they do exist, mostly in the far flung corners. These are the places that offer some of the most amazing sights Britain has to offer, but at a price.

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu - The Deepest Cave

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Known in English as The Cave of Black Spring, this sprawling network of tunnels and caverns beneath the Upper Swansea Valley is 274.5m deep and 31km long, branching out into tunnels and gaping caverns, as well as waterfalls and lashing tongues of rapid water. It even has its own, uniquely specialised eco-system, including pale white trout which have become completely blind.

There are numerous passes into and out of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. Most of them are only recommended if you have at least intermediate caving experience, and are somewhat dependent on the season, as water levels can render parts of the network inaccessible.

Ben Nevis - The Highest Peak

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This is the challenge all British climbers aspire to conquer. Standing 1,346m high, this collapsed volcano dome towers over the rest of the Grampian Mountains, and the nearby town of Fort William. Not only is it one of the most challenging summits, but it also boasts a series of steep cliff faces which both dry and ice climbers regularly attempt. Those who reach the summit will find themselves facing the ruins of an observatory which operated there between 1883 and 1904.

Nevis is high enough to be in the clouds, meaning that it has fog cover around 80% of the time, which can cause significant visibility risks for climbers. Conditions can often be extremely windy, with the mountain experiencing hundreds of gales every year.

Foula - The Most Isolated Island

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Well, it’s the most isolated inhabited island in the UK. 38 people live on the tiny speck of land, which sits some 20 miles west of Shetland, making it by far the most westerly of the isles. Despite only being 1,265 hectares across, it has 5 peaks, with the highest being The Sneug summit, at 418 meters, followed by the Kame, which at 376m is the second highest sea cliff in the UK.

Interestingly, the habitants still follow many Norse traditions, and actually adhere to the Julian calendar, which was originally introduced by Julius Caesar in ancient Rome. Yule is celebrated on January 6th and New Year’s Day is on the 13th.

Loch Morar - The Deepest Lake

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This wouldn’t normally necessarily carry the distinction of being ‘extreme’, but at 310 meters, Loch Morar is not only the deepest lake in the UK, it’s one of the deepest in Europe at large (although it pales in comparison to Scandinavia, them fjords).

It’s a deep sided glacial lake with remarkably clear water, populated by salmon, trout (some of which get as big as 6 or 7kg), eel, minnow, and in true Loch fashion, there’s rumour of a hulking beast called the Morag lurking somewhere in the depths.

Kielder - The Darkest Forest

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The largest forest in the UK is Galloway, but Kielder is the largest man-made one, ranging across 650 square kilometres in Northumberland. It’s a pretty astounding sight, particularly if you look over it from the tip of Black Fell, the sight of the Kielder observatory. It’s there because the total absence of any kind of light pollution makes Kielder perhaps the darkest place anywhere in Britain, and therefore a prime location for stargazing.

The woodland itself is a labyrinth of conifers and spruce, making it prime habitat for many types of raptor, including ospreys, goshawks and hen harriers. Spend enough time roving around and you might uncover some archaeological evidence of the bloody history of the local area. Border reivers menaced the Anglo-Scottish borderlands from the 13th century up until around the 17th, raiding homes and slaughtering families indiscriminately. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.