Volcanoes in Britain? That’s right. Contrary to popular belief, the UK is riddled with them. But don’t start frantically Googling “volcano insurance” just yet. They’re all very extinct.
Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, for example, is what remains from an eruption during the Carboniferous period. That was around 335 million years ago, when Pangaea was still forming (it wouldn’t break apart for another 160 million years).
“In Britain you do not walk on volcanoes, you walk within them,” explained the Volcano Live presenter, Professor Iain Stewart, writing for the BBC in 2012 . “All along what is now the western shores of Scotland, huge volcanic centres erupted colossal quantities of magma. The islands of Arran, Mull and Skye are among the remains of a chain of volcanoes that draped much of northern Britain and Ireland in enormous amounts of lava and volcanic ash.”
So no proper volcanoes, you might say. That’s unless you include the British Overseas Territories.
In which case we’ve several extremely active volcanoes, like Mount Belinda on Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands. It erupted in 2001, and again between 2005 and 2007. Just to the north of Belinda lies Saunders Island, which has its own active volcano: Mount Michael.
Montserrat, another British Overseas Territory, is home to the Soufrière Hills volcano, which erupted between 1995 and 1999 to devastating effect. The island’s capital, Plymouth, was abandoned after being covered in several metres of ash, while at least 16 smaller settlements were also destroyed. Today it is the island’s biggest visitor attraction.
“You can take in the spectacle from safe viewing points that include the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, and on boat trips,” says Fred Mawer, Telegraph Travel’s Caribbean expert. “The island’s other draws include birdwatching (twitchers may get a chance to spot the island’s rare national bird, the endemic Montserrat oriole), snorkelling and diving – and the wonderfully unhurried pace of life.”
Three points in Edinburgh form the Arthur’s Seat Volcano site of special scientific interest: Arthur’s Seat itself, Calton Hill and Castle Rock, on which Edinburgh Castle is built.
“No one knows how this extinct volcano in Holyrood Park got its name, but die-hard romantics think it was the location of Camelot,” says our Edinburgh expert, Linda Macdonald.
“It’s 251 metres high, but if you have enough puff and the right footwear it is a relatively easy climb. I like to start opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse car park and follow the Radical Road path – paved in 1820 by unemployed weavers – past Salisbury Crags. Take in the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel before the steep climb to the rocky summit with its incredible views.”
Standing at 1,345 meters, Ben Nevis is the highest UK mountain (that’s unless you count the British Overseas Territories, in which case our highest mountain is actually Mount Paget on the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia. It’s more than twice the height of Ben Nevis, at 2,935m).
“To approach anything close you have to leave the bens and glens behind and transport your imagination thousands of miles eastward to the infamous blast in 1883 that ripped the heart out of Krakatoa volcano, west of Java.”The summit is the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano that erupted with staggering force around 350 million years ago. “The event was of such epic violence that it is almost impossible to imagine today,” wrote Professor Iain Stewart.
“The soul-stirring sight of the mighty Black Cuillin mountain range, rising in jagged peaks on the opposite shore, is often lauded as the finest view in Britain, most notably by walker Alfred Wainwright, and it does not disappoint,” says Telegraph Travel’s Caroline Shearing.The highest mountain in Wales also has volcanic origins. Earlier this year a public vote proclaimed the view from the summit to be the finest in Britain.
The views from the top are just as spectacular, and tackling the Cuillin Ridge is on the bucket list of every UK mountaineer. The highest point, Sgùrr Alasdair, reaches 992 metres above sea level.
This curious rock formation, consisting of almost 40,000 basalt columns, is the result of a massive volcanic eruption around 50 to 60 million years ago (or, if you prefer, it was built by a Scottish giant wishing to do battle with legendary local Finn MacCool). A swanky new visitor centre opened in 2015.
This beautiful spot lies in a subsidence caldera, the remains of an ancient volcano that erupted around 420 million years ago.
Gavin Bell, Telegraph Travel’s Scotland expert, says: “This is known as the Lost Valley, and is one one of the most dramatic, haunting places in Scotland. There are mountains, and a history of clan warfare. Most visitors are content to drive through the glen, stopping to marvel at three massive, brooding buttresses on one side and a towering, knife-edge ridge on the other.
Those who take a rough footpath up to the lost valley find a historic hiding place of stolen cattle, in a wilderness stalked by the spectres of murdered clansmen. If hairs rise on the backs of necks, it may not be down to the wind.”
Straddling the border between England and Scotland, the Cheviot Hills were formed by violent volcanic activity almost 500 million years ago. In wasn’t the last violent activity to shake these hills, which staged bloody battles between English and Scottish forces, notably the Battle of Otterburn in 1388.
Part of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group, which represents the remains of a volcanic island arc, not unlike what you’ll find in the Pacific today.
“The mountain is well within the reach of most walkers, but it’s a long climb to the top, and can be tricky to navigate in bad weather, so save it for a clement day. From the top, you’ll be treated to a wonderfully wild vista across the valley of Wasdale.”
It’s probably Surtsey, the most southerly of around 130 found in Iceland. Better known are Eyjafjallajökull, which grounded all those flights in 2010, and Bardarbunga, which erupted in 2014. In Iceland, you can even step inside a volcano – Thrihnukagigur, which is thankfully dormant.Program. It has 173 that have erupted at some point in the last 11,500 years, followed by Russia with 166 and Indonesia with 139.