Where: Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve, Somerset.
Between November and February, enormous black shapes fill Somerset’s skies, but these are far from ordinary storm clouds. As dusk approaches, around 100,000 starlings, known as a murmuration, twist, tumble and turn in formation, creating breathtaking patterns in the sky before settling in a reed bed to roost. This phenomenon can also be seen at Gretna Green in Dumfries & Galloway, over Brighton Pier in East Sussex, and in RSPB reserves around the country. Call the Natural England- and RSPB-run Starling Hotline (07866 554142) for daily information (naturalengland.co.uk).
Where: Northern England, Scotland and Wales.
Resembling giant half-buried eggs scattered across the landscape, drumlins are an arresting sight. These elongated, oval hills are usually up to just over a mile long, 50 metres high and are often found in groups. Their shape, which has a steep sloped front and tapered back, suggests that they were formed by ice sheets. Clusters of drumlins – a ‘basket of eggs’ landscape – can be found in the Eden Valley in Cumbria (naturalengland.org.uk).
Where: Malham Cove, North Yorkshire.
Formed over millions of years, the limestone pavements around Malham are among the best examples of karst scenery (soluble rock) in the world. The deeply fissured and fretted pattern of channels is the result of erosion by slightly acidic rainwater. This creates naked limestone slabs called clints and fissures known as grikes, which are home to rare shade-loving plants including harts-tongue fern, wood sorrel and wood garlic as well as ash and sycamore trees in the larger cracks. Other places to see such formations are Whitbarrow Scar and the Great Asby Scar in Cumbria (malhamdale.org.uk).
Where: Between Overton and Maisemore, Gloucestershire.
Racing along at five to eight miles per hour, the River Severn produces a wave up to three metres high – which local surfers attempt to ride. It is caused by a huge surge of water through the river’s funnel-shaped estuary just after new and full moons. At Avonmouth the river is five miles across but it shrinks to less than 100 yards wide at Minsterworth, while decreasing in depth. As the tide rises, the water is forced into the smaller channel and a large wave forms. The best vantage point is Stonebench or Minsterworth (severn-bore.co.uk). This phenomenon can also be seen on the River Trent (environment-agency.gov.uk).
Where: 300m west of the Isle of Scarba, Argyll & Bute.
One of the most powerful and largest whirlpools in the world lies between the islands of Jura and Scarba, off the west coast of Scotland, where a complex tidal system operates. As water flows up the Sound of Jura during a bi-monthly spring tide, it is squeezed by the narrowing channel. It is then agitated by an uneven seabed when it reaches a 219-metre-deep hole followed by a ridge of rock that rises to a pinnacle 29 metres below the surface. This forces a massive up-thrust of water, which appears in pulses swept west by the tide, creating the maelstrom (whirlpoolscotland.co.uk).
Where: Off North Berwick in the Firth of Forth, East Lothian.
The remains of an extinct volcano, Bass Rock is a small piece of black lava jutting out from the water. At the height of summer, however, the surface is covered in a blanket of white, as more than 150,000 gannets nest just a beak’s length apart. It is the largest single-island colony of the bird in the world. These striking creatures, with their two-metre wingspan, golden heads and blue eyes, occupy every inch of space on the rock until autumn, returning in January or February to reclaim their territory. See the spectacle on an organised boat trip (seabird.org).
Where: Scotland and northern England.
Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun interact with the earth’s atmosphere, releasing light. Rarely is Britain treated to aurora borealis (the northern lights), which is more commonly seen within the Arctic Circle, but after unusual activity from the sun, it has lit up the skies above northern Britain with flickering purples, greens, yellows and oranges. See it on a clear, dark night away from city lights (aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk).
Where: Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, Worcestershire
Visit Wren’s Nest to discover 650-plus species of marine invertebrate fossils – 86 of which are unique to the site – that were uncovered when the area was quarried for fertiliser in the 19th century. One well-known trilobite (a small arthropod that lived on the sea floor) is Calymene blumenbachii, which was found in such great numbers that it became a symbol of the limestone mining industry, and an emblem for the town itself, being given the name the ‘Dudley Locust’ (naturalengland.org.uk).
Photo: Natural England/Peter Wakely
Where: Near Cheddar village, Somerset.
Dramatic, near-vertical limestone cliffs, edged by caves, rise 137 metres to the top of Cheddar Gorge. Sculpted by meltwaters at the end of the Ice Age, it is the largest gorge in the UK and is where Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton was found in 1903. Gough’s Cave and Cox’s Cave are open to the public and contain an array of chambers and rock formations as well as stalactites and stalagmites. There is a path, known as Jacob’s Ladder, built up the side of the gorge with a lookout tower; take the three-mile clifftop walk for great views (cheddargorge.co.uk).
Where: Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.
While it might look like a charming place for a stroll, this beach has claimed many lives. The bay is the largest area of intertidal sand and mudflats in the UK and is famous for its deadly sands. As the sea comes in, hidden channels of water change and areas that are firm one day turn to quicksand the next. Explore the bay on a walk under the expert eye of Cedric Robinson, the 25th appointed Queens Guide to the Sands (morecambebay.org.uk).
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