My Extreme Points of the United Kingdom

Procrastination at its finest. A chronicle of the extreme reaches of the United Kingdom, and how close (but yet too far) I’ve got to them.

1. The furthest north I’ve been:

Kyle of Lochalsh Line, North Shore of Loch Luichart, Highland, Scotland. (Coordinates: 57.628417; -4.792786)

Given that I travel disproportionally by rail, it comes as no surprise that the northernmost point of the UK (in fact my northernmost venture on Earth) that I’ve been involved a train. Namely, somewhere on the Kyle of Lochalsh line that links Inverness to the Isle of Skye in the North of Scotland. By the incredibly accurate estimate that is Google Maps, the railway skirts closest to the North Pole somewhere on the north edge of Loch Luichart, immediately before the eponymous station.

Stations in the far North of Scotland tended to have rich, if faltered, decorations; Lochluichart was the defiant exception. It was rebuilt in 1954 after a hydro-electric scheme had displaced its predecessor, and its current architecture is best summed up as “nondescript”, devoid of even the supposed effort and vision that went into the much-loathed brutalist structures of that era. Even after googling pictures of this remote outpost for this blog post, I honestly had no recollections of the Lochluichart station at all.

I doubt many others did either. I recall no significant settlement near the station. On average four trains a day call on request, that is to say, the station is skipped if nobody wished to alight or board the train. Given that less than two people use the station per day in the fiscal year of 2015/2016, I imagine speeding through is a regular occurrence. From a travellers’ perspective, the area is very much an afterthought on the journey to Skye.
What I do have is a photo of Loch Luichart, which very much conforms to the ‘Wild North’ image of the mind. I guess its remoteness and, frankly, insignificance, was apt as the northernmost episode of my travels.

2. The furthest west I’ve been:

Fairman Place, Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland (Coordinates: 55.004534; -7.330631)

It is also fitting that one of my extreme points of the UK comes from perhaps the most “exotic”, that is to say least British, city of the UK. Politics is always a tricky controversy, especially in a city where how you refer to it contains political connotations, but I think it is safe to say that as a tourist you may not have noticed that it is (still) the United Kingdom at all. The city’s streets and windows are almost universally draped in the Irish Green, its shops readily accept Euros (more so given the recent fluctuation of the exchange rate), even its football team plays in the league of the Republic.

Certainly a great contrast from the last place I visited, Unionist Coleraine, but thirty miles east.

The exact westernmost point was the hostel I stayed in during my fleeting visit; less than five miles west would you find yourself across the border in County Donegal. It was a steep uphill walk from the city centre, so much so that I resorted to the bus instead of attempting the swearword-inducing climb. I guess that one thing everybody can agree on: hills are a pain.

(If we exclude Northern Ireland, then my westernmost point is somewhere on the A380 between Mallaig and Arisiag, also in the Highlands. It should have also been a railway station though, specifically Arisiag, the westernmost station of the British network, but for engineering works…)

3. The furthest east I’ve been:

The Shell Grotto, Margate, Kent, England (Coordinates: 51.387741; 1.389434)

In the complete opposite direction of the extreme north and west, my easternmost point was at the tip of Kent. Margate was pretty much the poster child of the British seaside resorts: it popularity quickly soared as the railways brought the masses to the beaches, which then faded just as quickly as the charter planes took the masses away to Spain and Greece instead. It was not exactly a genteel resort thereafter.

However, Margate is now attempting a somewhat artsy reboot: it was always blessed with a lovely beach and some cute cobbled streets which attracted one JW Turner a long time ago; now many artists have followed his footsteps (or perhaps cheaper rents) and set up studios in town, close to the brand-new Turner Contemporary gallery that now stands in the rejuvenated beachfront. Even the old funfair  – Margate Dreamland – has reopened, re-inventing its dated design and attractions into the chic of the Instagram era.

The exact easternmost point was the hidden gem of them all: a shell grotto literally hidden behind some residential streets. By shell grotto, I mean an underground crypt that is completely covered in various varieties of shells – there must have been tens of thousands at least. To this day nobody knew who built this grotto, nor what they used it for. Popular theories naturally involved the Knights Templar and the Illuminati, but I suppose we will never know.

Plan a day out to Margate, it’s cool now.

4. The furthest south I’ve been

Land’s End, Cornwall, England (Coordinates: 50.066078; -5.714703)

As a landmark of extremity Land’s End is a pretty lousy one. It is not the southernmost point of the UK (that’s the Isles of Scilly) or Great Britain (the Lizard point nearby); it is not the westernmost either (that’s Northern Ireland or the Scottish Highlands). Yet as the most southwesterly point of Great Britain it carries the sort of mental relevance that haunts a nation. Whenever a British person thinks about Land’s End, it immediately conjures the image of a cape jutting out into the open sea, the extreme and the remote. I blame its name.

So yes, my southernmost point is without a doubt the most ‘extreme’ locations of the lot. If you visit you’ll find attractions include a whole bunch of signs to everywhere, and the aptly-named ‘First and Last House of England’. What’s funny though is that by Google Maps, the southernmost point of the entire attraction isn’t near the famed cape, but closer to the junction of paths to and from the carpark.

‘The First and Last Carpark of England’?