Ribble Valley, UK – Journey to the Centre of Britain

by Garry Cook

The centre of Britain is an elusive place. Depending on your highly scientific and hugely mathematical method of calculation, the actual midpoint could be any one of a number locations.

Haltwhistle, a picturesque town near Hexham in Northumberland has made the strongest claim to the title simply by stating the fact on all the road signs leading to it.

Others believe the actual centre is in a field out the back of the old Calderstones Hospital in Whalley, near Clitheroe.

If you believe the people with the biggest calculators and most expensive GPS location equipment – Ordnance Survey – the real centre is a piece of grass near Whitendale Hanging Stones high up on an inaccessible hill a few miles north of Dunsop Bridge in Lancashire. OS worked this out by including Britain’s 400 islands in their calculations.

But did you know that hardly anybody else knows about this? Apart from us now, obviously. The reason for this is simple: The exact centre of Britain is so remote, so exposed and so difficult to reach that nobody goes there.

You can’t have a tourist destination where no tourists can get to.

But that does not mean that claiming the Centre of Britain – for Lancashire – is any less important. And so, one blustery Sunday morning, my eight-year-old son and I set off for Britain’s mysterious centrepoint, flag in hand.

Preparation was difficult. Hardly anything has been published about Whitendale Hanging Stones and how to get to them. The advice available on the internet is difficult to follow.

But, after six weeks of intensive research, note talking and provisions packing, I formulated a plan. And this was it:

  • Drive to Dunsop Bridge. Leave the car at Puddleducks Cafe.
  • Cycle 2.5 miles alongside the River Dunsop, past Middle Knoll and then on to a farmhouse a further mile away.
  • Dump the bikes.
  • Follow the stream for two miles on foot.
  • Scramble up the steep hillside, then trudge across the heavy peat bogs until we can find an old shooters cabin (Grouse shooting is big round here – but thankfully not on Sundays).
  • Hike further up the hill until we find the centre of Britain, Whitendale Hanging Stones.

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Believe me, it wasn’t easy. The cycle ride, particularly up Middle Knoll was hard enough.

“When are we leaving the bikes?” my son repeatedly asked during the one hour and fifteen minutes cycle ride. After almost an hour of this we had to have one of those inspirational dad chats in order to stamp out any further signs of moaning which could have jeopardised the mission.

The walking was fine until the point where we had to cross the stream, which was heavily swollen.

But once we had successfully achieved that (thanks to a convenient iron bridge installed by the local water board) we had a daunting hill to ascend. This hill, one of those which always has another summit you can only see when you reach what you thought was the summit, was steep enough to make little boys weep. But not this rejuvenated explorer who had been fully-refocused with the promise of a Mars Bar and some pop at the end of the journey.

The views as we approached the stones were stunning and felt more special because we knew that so few people have actually experienced them.

It was with huge smiles on our faces that we reached the stones – not just the centre of Britain but which also, for us, felt like the top of the world for fifteen minutes.

And now the secret is out, Lancashire can add the title of Centre of Britain to the long list of things it can be proud of.

It only took two hours and twenty minutes to find the stones and claim them for Lancashire but our memories will last a lifetime.

NOTE: Ordnance Survey centre of Britain grid reference SD 64188.3 56541.43

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