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Britain’s natural wonders

May 4, 2017, 11:23 pm

Explore some of the UK’s iconic landscapes at these spectacular ancient sites.

The Needles, Isle of Wight, England 
These 3 jagged chalk rocks jutting from the western coast of the Isle of Wight once made up part of the headland but, over time, erosion has separated them from the coast. They’re best seen from The Needles Old Battery (link is external), a Victorian fort built to protect Britain from invasion. On a clear day, the contrast between gleaming bleached rock, blue foaming water and the endless sky above is spectacular. 

Did you know? None of the squat forms are particularly needle-like. The name refers to 2 earlier members of the group that crashed into the sea after a storm in 1764.

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View of the Needles off the Isle of Wight


Malham Cove, North Yorkshire, England
The curving crag of Malham Cove (link is external) is formed by an 80m-high cliff that was created at the end of the last Ice Age by melt water. At the top of the cliff is a limestone pavement, scoured by the retreating glacier, a strangely regular feature that resembles rough paving slabs. The views from the pavement across Yorkshire are fantastic and the area is excellent for walking. 

Did you know? Malham Cove appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Jurassic Coast, East Devon and Dorset, England
The Dorset and East Devon Coast, also known as the Jurassic Coast (link is external) was the first ever site to be inscribed as a 'natural' World Heritage Site. It spans 95 miles of sensational coastline all the way from East Devon to Dorset. What makes this coast so special is the way its cliff exposures provide an almost continuous geological 'walk through time' spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods - a time capsule holding 185 million years of the Earth's history. Walk along the cliff-top paths to see some of England’s most spectacular geology including Durdle Door, the large limestone arch near Lulworth. 

Did you know? Scenes from the Oscar Wilde biopic Wilde, starring Stephen Fry and Jude Law, were shot here.

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People coasteering at the Durdle Door limestone rock arch on the Dorset Jurassic coastline


Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England
Britain’s biggest gorge (link is external) was gouged out of Somerset by meltwater floods over 1 million years ago. What’s left is a spectacular steep-sided ravine that cleaves the countryside in 2. Visit the gorge for cliff-top walks, rock climbing and the show caves that are home to weird and wonderful rock formations and an underground river. 

Did you know? Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as the Cheddar Man, was found in one of the caves here. 

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View of the sun breaking through the clouds at Cheddar Gorge in the Mendip Hills

Seven Sisters cliffs, Sussex, England 
The South of England’s white chalk cliffs are an iconic sight and a symbol of Britain’s proud island history. Some of the most dramatic are the Seven Sisters (link is external) along the Sussex Heritage Coast. To experience the classic view, head for Seaford Head from where you get a sweeping panorama to the cliffs. For as long as anyone can remember their austere beauty has repelled invaders and welcomed home weary seafarers. 

Did you know? The cliffs appear on film in, among others, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire, England 
This collection of crazily balanced rocks (link is external) have fascinated visitors for centuries. Formed by millstone grit eroding over thousands of years, the formations have acquired names that (supposedly) reflect their shapes. Look out for The Watchdog, The Sphinx, The Turtle, The Dancing Bear and The Camel. The site is open all year round. 

Did you know? Early observers thought the naturally formed rocks were carved by druids.

Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland
The Giant's Causeway (link is external) lies at the foot of basalt cliffs along the rugged Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. This intriguing rock formation, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of some 40,000 tightly packed black basalt columns sticking out of the sea. The polygonal pillars are strangely regular, almost as if formed by human hand. Human… or giant. 

Did you know? Legend has it that the causeway was formed by Irish giant Finn McCool who wanted to cross the Irish Sea to fight Scottish rival, Benandonner.

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View out to sea at The Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Fingal’s Cave, Isle of Staffa, Scotland 
Across the Irish Sea from the Giant’s Causeway is Fingal’s Cave, a sea cave on the island of Staffa (link is external) in the Inner Hebrides. It’s part of the same ancient lava flow that created the Causeway and has been an inspiration to artists and writers for hundreds of years. Sir Walter Scott said it ‘baffled all description’ and the composer Felix Mendelssohn composed his Hebrides Overture after hearing the strange echoes caused by water sloshing around the cave. You can visit Staffa (link is external) by boat from the mainland. 

Did you know? Fingal’s Cave's Gaelic name, Uamh-Binn, means ‘cave of melody’.

Trotternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye, Scotland 
The most northerly of Skye’s (link is external) peninsulas boasts some spectacular geology. Take the easterly coast road to see the bizarre Tolkienesque spikes of the Quiraing landslip and the Old Man of Storr, a monolith of basalt rising 49 metres. It was in this startling landscape that Bonnie Prince Charlie hid from government troops after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. 

Did you know? Trotternish is also home to Kilt Rock, a sheer cliff of hexagonal basalt named after the Scottish national dress it resembles.

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The Storr is a rocky outcrop on the Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye.

Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia, North Wales
These 2 mountains are among the most striking in a region not short on epic, rugged scenery. Glyder Fach (994m) is crowned by the famous cantilever rock, a massive precariously balanced slab that’s a favourite spot for climbers to be photographed. Glyder Fawr (1001m) rewards with a craggy summit littered with spiky frost shattered rocks angled like ancient tombstones. 

Did you know? Snowdonia National Park (link is external) is also home to the highest peak in England and Wales, Snowdon (link is external).